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Renowned train writer releases faith-fueled book

Nov. 05, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Renowned train writer Bob Withers has gone off the rails -- and that's a good thing.

Withers, a retired reporter and copy editor for The Herald-Dispatch, is well-known regionally for his 10 books that include the coffee-table book, "The President Travels By Train," that sold more than 7,000 copies and that earned him appearances on several national TV networks and book signings at Presidential libraries.

Withers, who is also working on his 12th book, a new book on Cass Scenic Railroad, has just released "Precious Memories: Special People God has Put In My Life."

The faith-fueled book is on sale now for $20.

From noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, Withers, who is also the long-time pastor at Seventh Avenue Baptist Church, will be signing copies of his new book at Guiding Light Christian Book Store at Merritt Creek Farm Shopping Center.

Withers, who for decades was a bi-vocational pastor working both full-time at the newspaper as well as heading up churches in the area, said the 60-page book is filled with vignettes about just a few of the Christian folks he has interviewed and met along his unique path as a writer and preacher.

Withers, who has met everyone from two (Larry Fine and Moe) out of the Three Stooges to the Judds, breaks the book into seven chapters shining a light on his interactions with everyone from Billy Graham and Squire Parsons to Dale Evans, Dagmar (who wound up going to Withers' church before she passed) to many of his interactions with presidents.

Withers met three presidents, received personal correspondence from a few others and also rode the whistle-stop campaign trains with two former presidents.

While the presidents get their due, Withers spends half of the book exploring his many interactions through the years with the Billy Graham ministries that date back to 1964 when Withers sang in the choir and worked as a counselor for a crusade featuring now long-time friend, Grady Wilson who was then preaching at Fairfield Stadium.

Withers, who through the years has gotten to interview Graham, and who has with his wife Sue Ann, done many trips to Graham's world famous crusades, said it has been a life-long blessing as a journalist and local pastor to have had his life touched often by one of the world's greatest evangelists.

"Everything he has done has been to glorify Christ and to bring people to him," Withers said of Graham. "That has set him apart. It is nice to know a minister of the gospel out there who has been completely honest and committed and that is because he has never forgotten that he is working not for himself, he is working for the Lord."

Withers himself has been in the vineyard as a local pastor since June 25, 1972.

The Guyandotte native who lives in a historic home on Main Street, said the railroad called to him but Withers, who was named a History Hero last year for his work with the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, could not answer the rail whistle as his vocation -- only his hobby.

"I am too much of a homebody I think that is one reason I didn't go to work for the railroad I would have had to go to Parkersburg and I wanted to stay right here, Withers said. "I had another calling so I became this bi-vocational pastor.

Withers, who began ministering at Fairfield and Ball's Chapel United Methodist Churches back in the 1970s said it was wild times working full-time at the paper then driving 25 miles out to the churches where he would often schedule the respective church's two-week revivals back-to-back, meaning he would have a month straight of 16-hour-plus days working and on the road.

"I started a revival in the middle of February in 1980 or 1981 and everybody at the church thought I had knots in my head," Withers said with a laugh. "It lasted seven weeks and the services would let out at 11 at night and folks would come back for more. I was working nights and could only come out on Wednesdays and Sundays, but we had 81 people saved or rededicated and six men called to preach out of that meeting, and most of them are still at it."

One of the greatest moments in his ministry is shared in the book as he was able to lead Huntington's famous Broadway and TV star, Dagmar or Virginia Ruth Egnor to the Lord after she retired back to the Tri-State having made her fame and name in New York City. The blond bombshell was one of the first female stars of television and making the covers of such magazines as Life.

Withers, who also helped get her into the Greater Huntington Wall of Fame in 1998, shares several funny stories from Dagmar, who passed away on Oct. 9, 2001.

Withers, who includes a chapter about his coverage of the Jessica Lynch story and the personal relationships that rippled from that coverage, said he owes the book's existence to his wife Sue Ann, who convinced him to boil down all of his many journals into highlighting some of the wonderful folks the Lord has put on his path.

"I really owe it to Sue Ann because she kept after me until I finished it," he said." It's my very first non-railroad book, but don't worry, I'm working on a new one about Cass."