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State official applauds long-time businesses, groups

CENTENARIANS — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner recognized several local businesses and organizations that were established more than 100 years ago. With Warner, far left are, from left, Eric Fithyan, owner of James Funeral Home; Lori Weaver, vice president-institutional advancement at Bethany College; Brian Taylor, chief executive officer of Mutual Municipal Insurance Co. of West Virginia; and Luke Diserio, president of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce. Also acknowledged were Chambers General Store, Eagle Manufacturing Co., the Brooke County Review and Chester Lumber. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner acknowledged several Brooke County businesses and groups for their longevity, noting they have persevered through the Great Depression, two world wars, the Spanish flu and the more recent pandemic.

Drawing from registration records at his office, Warner presented Centurion Awards to Bethany College, Chambers General Store, Eagle Manufacturing Co., James Funeral Home, Municipal Mutual Insurance Co. of West Virginia, the Brooke County Review and Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce at a gathering Thursday.

The state official said the award’s name is fitting not only because it comes from centuria, the Latin word for 100, but also because Roman centurions, as the commanders of up to 100 soldiers, were known for their personal endurance.

Of recipients of the Centurion Awards, Warner said, “They have that ability to take a vision and put it into action and have it come to fruition.”

He added such businesses and organizations have played a vital role in the community by creating jobs and providing valuable services.

Warner noted Bethany College was founded in 1840, before West Virginia was a state.

Its founder and first president, Alexander Campbell, the college’s founder and first president, was an originator of the Disciples of Christ movement, from which many Christian churches were established.

In accepting the honor, Lori Weaver, vice president of institutional advancement at the school, noted Campbell’s desire to share his philosophy and religious beliefs with others led to his establishing the first post office in Bethany and serving as its postmaster.

The college is home to two National Historic Landmarks: Campbell’s home, which was visited by future president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, among others; and Old Main, an example of Gothic architecture built in 1858.

Warner noted the college produced many productive citizens through its years.

Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis added former two-time governor Cecil Underwood also served as the college’s president.

Eric Fithyan, owner of James Funeral Home, noted he is proud to be the first local owner of the Follansbee business, which opened in 1916.

It was first operated by Lydia “Ella” Johnson and John T. James, a native of Wales and former coal miner who obtained state credentials after completing a three-week course from the Cincinnati College of Embalming.

Having learned the new city of Follansbee didn’t have a funeral director, he moved there with his brother, Niran, and their families, to serve as undertakers and sell furniture.

In 1974, James Funeral Home was purchased by the Chambers family, owners of Chambers Funeral Home in Wellsburg, who sold both funeral homes to Fithyan in 2011.

Brian Taylor, the sixth chief executive officer of Mutual Municpal Insurance, said the business opened in 1910, specializing in property and casualty insurance, and expanded its service area from West Virginia to Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1991.

He said it’s unique in that it’s owned soley by about 40,000 policyholders it serves.

It was founded by J.A. Gist, a local attorney who served on its board until his death in 1964. In 2014, the business invested $850,000 in the construction of its present 5,800-square-foot location on Main Street, bringing together under one roof the staffs of two Wellsburg offices.

Others honored, but not represented at Thursday’s presentation, were: Chambers General Store, which opened in Bethany in 1917; the Brooke County Review, which was created with the merging of the Follansbee Review, established in 1915, and Brooke News; and Chester Lumber Co., which was established in Weirton in 1903.

Also recognized was the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce, which was formed in 1916.

Luke Diserio, its current president, said the organization’s longevity should be attributed to its many volunteer leaders and the support of local businesses over the years.

Diserio also reflected on the departure last year of Jacie Ridgely, the chamber’s executive secretary for eight years.

He and others noted that in that time, Ridgely worked with various chamber officers to welcome and assist many new businesses in the Wellsburg area; initiate a scholarship program benefiting outstanding Brooke High; hold the chamber’s annual dinner, at which a Citizen of the Year and Business of the Year were honored, and other special events.

Diserio said he hopes he and others will continue the chamber for another 100 years.

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