Interviews over the past two days:
- Yesterday, I got the opportunity to meet the sweet (and matching) couple Marylou and Fred Odum, of Welch. Fred is a native of Bartley while Marylou grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Fred shared the story of first bringing Mary to Welch, after which she started working for the McDowell County National Bank and he worked at the hospital. Fred had a hard time talking about the changes he has seen in his hometown—from the extreme poverty to the large number of residents dependent on welfare. Despite all of the changes since they came back, they continue to stay for a very specific reason. “We’re here and the people are the reason we stay here,” Marylou said.
Today, I interviewed Vondalere Scott and Jay Chatman who talked about their experiences and perspectives of the area.
- “Von,” as they call her, holds basically every position at Keystone City Hall, including the city treasurer, clerk and judge. She talked about Keystone’s shrinking population (approx. 300 people are left) and the lack of resources, housing and education available to residents. Von raised her children in the area and stays there because it is home and she has always had a stable job. She says she has no regrets staying in Keystone and states “we have a sign here that says, ‘We love where we live,” and I do.”
- Jay, an avid collector of coal and railroad history artifacts, would like to see the county embrace the rich history, restore the historical buildings and create a place for tourists to learn about the coal industry. Jay says he meets people from all over the country that come to McDowell to learn about the history of coal. People have even asked him if they could take a piece of coal home with them. Jay, an enthusiastic and positive leader, envisions each town creating special stops for visitors to stay, eat, learn and shop while they are here. However, he notes tourism can’t fully bloom without the infrastructure, and particularly roads and the highway, coming through the county.