Friends, family remember Henry Wilson

WELLSBURG — Brooke County has lost a longtime public official who is being remembered for his accessibility and forthright manner.

Henry Wilson, who was elected to five six-year terms on the Brooke County Commission, died on March 6. He was 89.

His death was acknowledged with a moment of silence by current Brooke County commissioners Tim Ennis, Jim Andreozzi and Stacey Wise, who noted his 30 years as commissioner as well as many years as co-owner, with his wife Dolly, of Wilson’s News Stand and Confectionary in Wellsburg.

Dan Gilchrist, a former county commissioner who served with Wilson for 18 years, said residents often would approach Wilson about problems or concerns at his business.

“They came to the store to see him one on one and Henry always seemed to handle those situations very well. He never told them anything he wouldn’t tell them at the courthouse,” Gilchrist said.

Wilson was asked at his last commission meeting in 2003 what advice he would give to new public officials.

He replied, “Always be truthful. Not everyone will agree with you, but at least they will know where you stand.”

Gilchrist and former fellow commissioner Norm Schwertfeger noted Wilson cast the only dissenting vote when the commission voted to close the courthouse on Saturdays years ago.

“He was steadfast in his opinion it should stay open,” Gilchrist noted, adding that after a short time, negative response led the commission to reverse its decision.

In recent years the current commission has reduced the courthouse’s weekend hours to the first and last Saturday of each month.

Wellsburg Police Chief Richard Ferguson, who as Brooke County sheriff worked with Wilson, said Wilson also was known as “the watchdog of the county’s budget” for his careful scrutiny of the expenditure of public funds.

But, Ferguson said Wilson also was supportive of his efforts to update the sheriff’s department’s fleet, which then included just a few cruisers, and equipment.

“Henry was a gentleman, easy to talk to when you sat down with him,” he said.

While Wilson could be frugal with public funds, he personally supported a variety of causes.

Schwerfeger recalled that Wilson often carried a wad of cash he would quietly draw from when someone from a charity or youth organization approached him.

“I saw him do that on numerous occasions,” he said.

Those who regularly attended commission meetings during Wilson’s tenure recall his habit of bringing a bag of candy, placing it on the corner of his desk and inviting everyone to partake.

Ferguson said he’s among many who have fond memories of going to Wilson’s News Stand as a child.

“I used to go for RCs (Royal Crown colas) and Moon Pies with friends. A lot of kids hung out there,” he said.

The store was opened in 1919 by Wilson’s father, Henry Wilson Sr. When the elder Henry Wilson died in 1939, his wife, Nellie, took it over, often aided by Henry and his siblings.

He and his wife, Dolly, ran the business for more than 30 years before closing it in 2000. Wilson attributed its longevity to Dolly, who often greeted customers from behind the counter.

Schwertfeger said he first met Wilson 50 years ago while buying comic books, for 12 cents each, at the store.

Years later, when he was elected to the county commission, he found Wilson to be a helpful advisor.

“I enjoyed knowing him, having the opportunity to work with him and learn about local government,” Schwertfeger said.

Gilchrist expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I enjoyed working with him. He was just a good man.”

A member of St. John Catholic Church, he was an Army Korean War veteran. In addition to his wife of 56 years, he is survived by five children, Eddie of Wellsburg, Barbara Ann Turney of Virginia, James of Follansbee, John of Berryville, Va., and Mark, a doctor, of West Point, Miss.; a sister, Rita Watson of Charleston; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandsons and several nieces and nephews.