To the editor:
This past week, West Virginia celebrated its 150th anniversary. Congratulations on a long struggle that spans a good reflection of American history from the pioneering spirit, to massive industrialization to today's rebirth in energy.
My family has ties to West Virginia. I worked at the Weirton Steel and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corps. for about 40 years. My father was the president of the Follansbee chapter of the federal credit unions for a long time and assisted many people.
When I lived with my grandmother more than 40 years, she told me that around 1910 she and my grandfather lived in tents in New Martinsville when he worked on the railroad. Also, a short time before that, our family had three cousins killed in the greatest coal mining disaster in American history. Their names were Antonio Rinaldi, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Raffaele Rinaldi, and were all under the age of 24. They worked for the Fairmont Coal Co. at Monongah. To quote Garrett McAteer, the historian, "On Dec. 6, 1907, nearly 500 men and boys, many of them immigrants, lost their lives, leaving hundreds of women and children widowed and more than 1,000 orphans.
Bishop P.J. Donahue of Wheeling at that time assisted greatly. Remember, there were no food stamps, welfare benefits, medical cards, housing assistance plans or unemployment compensation programs for the survivors. Most of these people couldn't read or write.
Also, I can remember 50 years ago at West Virginia's 100th anniversary I gathered a group of friends around the 200 block of North Seventh Street in Steubenville. Our group reflected a common bond at that time. We were of Italian, Polish and African-American ancestry. About half of the group was from Catholic Central High School and the rest was from Steubenville High School.
We followed the train tracks from where the Herald-Star is now located to the North End, across the Panhandle Bridge to the railyards in Weirton where the 1963 Centennial Special Exhibit Train was located. We viewed all the exhibits on the historic train and were presented with a card at the end. That card reads:
"Honorary West Virginian: On behalf of the people of the state of West Virginia, please accept our sincere thanks for viewing our 1963 Centennial Special Exhibit Train. The displays you have seen exemplify West Virginia's rich heritage and deep faith for the progress and growth for which we Americans strive. We welcome you as an honorary citizen of West Virginia. May we have the pleasure of your visit again throughout the centennial year and years to come."
It was signed by Gov. William Wallace Barron.