Putnam County: People who make it a better place to live
For more than 165 years, Putnam County has sat within its own borders as a rural to suburban area located between larger cities to its east and west. It straddles the Kanawha River with ample farmland and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad as crucial elements that helped its economy early on.
The 1850 Census, two years after Putnam’s formation, showed the county with a population of 5,336. The 2013 Census estimate shows a population more than 10 1/2 times larger at 56,650, with residents living in towns such as Winfield, Buffalo, Hurricane, Poca and throughout Teays Valley.
Putnam has been long noted as one of the fastest-growing counties in West Virginia. It also has become known for quality schools, numerous subdivision neighborhoods and large employers, such as Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Buffalo, the John E. Amos power plant near Winfield and Teays Valley Hospital, operated by Charleston Area Medical Center, near Hurricane.
But at Putnam County’s core has been a long history of community service. Below is just a sample of some individuals and organizations whose contributions have yielded a great impact.
Sally Holliday: Parks pioneer
Sally Holliday, at a time when she says women were to be “barefoot and pregnant,” stepped before city leaders with an idea to develop land surrounding Hurricane’s water reservoir into a park.
Holliday, now 78, of Hurricane, West Virginia, stepped up realizing Putnam County families wanting to picnic at the time were forced to travel to Charleston or Huntington. She found that unacceptable and through her efforts the reservoir’s surrounding area became the first park in a system of 15 countywide.
Holliday went onto head the county’s park system for 38 years, all in a volunteer capacity. She did so early on while raising five children, including a youngster she named John, whom others now refer to as Marshall University football coach Doc Holliday.
Most of the parks she helped create remain to this day, although some in the form of school playgrounds and others managed by various municipalities. She visits them today with an appreciation for their longevity and impact on countless families.
“I got as much out of it as I ever put in to it,” she said. “I look around and I’m proud of it. Just like the gentleman who built the top of the fountain, I can look at it and say, ‘I know how that got there.’”
Holliday’s journey started with Hurricane City Council, but making today’s Hurricane City Park a reality meant traveling to Charleston. She once again spoke up to leaders. This time it involved a need for funding from the state’s Park and Recreation Association. She walked away with a $10,000 grant.
Other Putnam County communities heard of the success and sought help for their towns. That led to another meeting with state park officials. She returned with at least $40,000 in additional grant money, which landed a park for each of the county’s incorporated areas.
Years later, Diamond Shamrock Coal Company agreed to provide the county with 300 acres in Eleanor, W.Va., with the condition the land be set aside for parks and recreation. It marked Holliday’s first venture into a larger park and soon became home to a gun club and the county fair.
“It was amazing because it was like putting a country club right in the middle of Eleanor,” she reminisced.
Valley Park, home of today’s community center, museum and Wave Pool, came later as part of a failed effort to lure the national track and field hall of fame to Hurricane. Holliday remembered a change in state administration led to the hall of fame locating elsewhere.
With her parents living just down the road from what became vacant farmland, Holliday again traveled to Charleston for a chat with the governor’s assistant. That conversation led to a 90-year lease for the 50-acre tract of land and gave way to the creation of Valley Park.
The Wave Pool followed a South Carolina fact-finding mission by Holliday and another colleague. Years later, her park board secured an adjoining, 11-acre tract toward the rear of today’s Valley Park.
“I guess I took a gamble every time I would do something, but I think my credibility grew and I think I was naive enough not to have ulterior motives,” she said. “I wouldn’t give up my experience with the parks for anything. To me it was an education and a blessing, and something that was meant for me to do.”
Holliday, married to Senior Status Judge James O. Holliday, credits much of her volunteerism to her time as a stay-at-home mother. Together, the couple also has made significant contributions to their Episcopal faith through Peterkin Conference Center in Romney, West Virginia, and St. Timothy’s in the Valley, located in Hurricane on land donated by her parents, Carroll and Elizabeth Fletcher.
Holliday remains active in the Hurricane Women’s Club, the Rae of Hope House in Charleston and efforts to renovate the former Morris Memorial Hospital in Milton, where her sister was treated for polio. Porch swings, still existing at Hurricane City Park, were installed with her sister’s disability in mind.
S.T.A.R.S.: Community soldiers in Christ’s service
Best known by the acronym S.T.A.R.S., Serving Together a Risen Savior, serves the community as a non-profit, family organization focused on spreading Jesus Christ’s love through community service.
The group’s director, Cindy Noffsinger, founded the group in 2002 with a dozen local teenagers. She said the teens yearned to serve the community through an organization unashamed of and unwilling to silence its faith.
What evolved was not a group of Bible thumpers, but instead a wide-ranging community service organization. Its members provide food, diapers and personal items; visit hospitals and nursing homes; assist with blood drives, recycling programs and disaster response; organize community gatherings; and take part in various beautification projects from placing flowers throughout Eleanor, West Virginia, to landscaping at five area schools.
At the center of most every project is Noffsinger, although the 58-year-old from Midway, W.Va., is quick to deflect praise toward Christ, her husband Bruce and countless others.
“I’m just the crazy one,” she said. “It’s not me. It is the Jesus in all of us. I’m the silliest.”
Noffsinger doesn’t keep count of those touched by S.T.A.R.S, and she said the group’s impact can’t be measured by one project or another. Instead, she points to countless testimonials of those donating money without being asked and firefighters or others who call when they see a need knowing her group will fill it.
S.T.A.R.S. also lives out its Christ-like example in after-school programs at Buffalo, Rock Branch and Scott Teays elementary schools. The groups are well attended, although participation is voluntary, and their lessons of God’s love and the importance of giving back have yielded quite the impact.
Noffsinger tells the story of one principal fascinated by the reduction in discipline slips at her school, while other parents call amazed by their children’s exhibiting of good manners.
“They’re changed little creations,” she said of the children. “We want to teach these children and these teens, and I’m telling you the ones we teach the most of are the adults — everybody that ‘Be a giver. Be a giver. Be a giver.’”
Another measure of the group’s impact is the willingness of others to participate in S.T.A.R.S. projects. She said the group operates with five board members, but whenever a need or project arises Noffsinger estimates she can call upon a group of 3,500 volunteers. They come from various churches and businesses favorable to her cause, as well as the families supported by its different programs.
“For me, it’s an adventure in Christ,” she said. “It’s just to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s to show that we want to support our families. We want to support them and show them how good God is, and that there really is a group of people who have a heart for Christ and just want to help each other, just love each other through this.”
Noffsinger’s passion for community service through faith dates back decades. It includes work for the Billy Graham Crusade and a Christian preschool hosted at her home years ago. She credits her husband, Bruce Noffsinger, with enabling much of their success, calling it a team effort. He also serves as S.T.A.R.S.’s board president.
Noffsinger’s volunteerism has slowed in recent years due to the declining health of her mother, but like most everything in life Noffsinger keeps an optimistic tone calling the chance to care for her ailing mom among the greatest gifts she could receive.
Karen Haynes: Dogs and princesses
Karen Haynes remembers growing up poor in South Charleston, West Virginia, fascinated at the sight of those who distributed food commodities, churches that delivered holiday baskets and the emergency officials who spread Christmas joy. As one of five children she remembers thinking the feeling experienced by those who helped must have been so good.
Those memories, coupled with a never-ending passion to influence her five granddaughters, fueled nearly a decade of volunteerism focused on dogs and princesses among other things.
Haynes, now 62, of Teays Valley, W.Va., noticed deplorable conditions at the Putnam County Animal Shelter and became the principal fundraiser for a new facility. Her efforts raised approximately $302,000 during the course of nine years. That money funded significant ground work, equipped the facility, covered the construction of a three-stall barn for abused horses and surrounded it all with the necessary shrubbery and fencing.
Officials cut the ribbon opening the new, $2 million facility eight months ago. Haynes’ impact can be seen every time someone tops the Winfield bridge and turns northeast for Red House hill or Hometown, W.Va. It sits just off W.Va. 62.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “Each time I go through the gate it’s just an overwhelming feeling to know the animals are warm in the winter and cool in the summertime, and not only that but the employees have such pride.”
Shortly after Haynes commenced what became a nine-year fundraising effort, she started an annual princess party realizing her granddaughters needed an opportunity to wear their Disney gowns. Remembering her less fortunate roots, she vowed to make it a free event recruiting area teenagers who dress up and pose for pictures to bring a bit of Disney magic to Hurricane, W.Va.
The annual event has grown from attracting a few hundred in 2007 to more than 3,800 people from multiple states this past April.
“Just seeing the little girls dressed up and the smiles on their faces,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Both efforts have required significant perseverance, albeit likely more so with the animal shelter that forced Haynes to brainstorm fundraiser after fundraiser to hold the community’s interest. Some ideas brought in thousands of dollars. Others made $30 or $40.
Such inconsistency made for “nine long years” of luaus, dog swims, motorcycle runs, dog washes and elegant evenings dubbed fur balls.
“I knew there was a need so that’s what kept me going,” she said. “I had to see it through ... I didn’t want (my granddaughters) to see me start something and say, ‘Well, this isn’t worth it,’ or ‘I’m not raising enough money.’ I don’t want them to ever give up on anything.”
The success of the princess party more recently spun off a heroes event for boys, which Haynes said continues to build momentum and popularity of its own. She also helps with the county’s annual Yuletide in the Park in December, its Memorial Day welcoming of Run for the Wall motorcyclists and various Chamber of Commerce events.
Haynes’ volunteerism is supported by her husband, Putnam County Commissioner Joe Haynes. Her efforts took off when his election provided her an opportunity to leave full-time employment for the role as housewife and passionate volunteer.
The couple met in 1985 as both worked at separate locations for Appalachian Power. They married months later. She eventually took a job at West Virginia American Water before resigning.
Jack Wilson: Putnam County Bank
Banks and bankers tend to carry a bad stereotype of being greedy and uncaring. Jack Wilson, president of the Putnam County Bank, has a reputation that is exactly the opposite.
“So many businesses are extremely successful right now because Mr. Wilson gave them a chance,” said Scott Edwards, mayor of Hurricane.
Edwards said it is Wilson’s vision that makes the difference.
“He saw it years ago. He saw the future,” Edwards said. “He could see what could happen if he loaned the money to the right people. He invested in the right type of people so we could all flourish.”
Wilson’s vision, Edwards said, has led to successful businesses in Putnam County and thousands of jobs.
No one knows better than Edwards, who received a loan from Wilson to start his own business, Netranom.
“He believed in me and my family,” Edwards said. “If it wasn’t for that loan, I wouldn’t have my own successful business. I’ve heard so many people tell me the exact same story.”
Leon McCoy, a Scott Depot, West Virginia, resident and former football coach at Winfield High School, has known Wilson for 60 years. Wilson gave McCoy his first loan when he first began coaching.
“He loaned me money for my first house,” McCoy said. “Would you believe it, I asked what I would need to get the money and he said ‘Just give me your signature.’”
McCoy said Wilson’s generosity is only matched by one person.
“He’s almost like Santa Claus at Christmas,” McCoy said.
Wilson has not only invested in local businesses, but he has also donated to numerous local organizations like Hurricane Little League, 4-H and Girl Scouts. Edwards said he’s helped them all with his generous donations.
“I truly believe Putnam wouldn’t be anything right now without him,” Edwards said.
McCoy said Wilson has a heart of gold.
“No one has touched as many people as Jack Wilson,” McCoy said.
Rivers to Ridges: Preserving history
The River to Ridges Heritage Trail revitalizes W.Va. 62 through Putnam County and beyond believing the area’s history may be just the key to open new economic development and opportunity, according to project coordinator Lowell Wilks.
The non-profit organization, based in Scott Depot, W.Va., is striving to meet that end with restored church bell towers in Buffalo, W.Va., reclamation of a park in Hometown, W.Va., and preservation of the historic Hoge House in Winfield, W.Va., as well as other projects northwest in Mason County.
Rivers to Ridges, initially funded with a federal grant, now operates as a scenic byway with a mix of state funds and donations from local business, Wilks said. He has served as its paid coordinator since its formation in 200_.
Under his leadership the organization painted and repaired Buffalo’s gazebo, provided technical assistance for a new Buffalo Library and coordinated all facets of converting an abandoned into the byway’s midway information and welcome center.
Rivers to Ridges also constructed a kiosk to assist fishermen at the Winfield Locks and Dam. Its four panels educate passersby as to the history of Kanawha River navigation, while their height provides views of the river and its working locks.
Similar plans are in place at Hometown Park, where Wilks said panels will educate visitors as to coal mining in Putnam County. Such history is important as coal company founded the park for its employees, but later transferred it to other parties leading to its eventual abandonment yeas later.
The Hoge House in Winfield represents one of the organization’s larger endeavors. It was built in 1838 and became home to James W. Hoge, who voted against Virginia’s secession despite later becoming a circuit judge in the new state of West Virginia.
His residence remains standing more than a century, although it was moved in 200_. Wilks’ group is now working toward a complete restoration with plans of museum capturing Putnam County’s role in the Civil War. He estimates $50,000 to $75,000 stands between the home’s current state and its completion.
“There was definitely a Civil War presence here,” he said. “Both the Union and the Confederacy formed units in Buffalo, and Winfield one of the oral history stories a mother would look out in the morning to see which flag was flying to see who controlled Winfield.”
Wilks explained the Hoge House, Hometown Park and plans for historic panels in Buffalo highlighting a Native American village from long ago all represent varying aspects of history the byway hopes to highlight.
“We don’t have Gettysburg here, but we have a lot of little Gettysburgs,” he said. “You move on from the Civil War and you have Nitro, which was built for a particular reason, Eleanor was built as a Depression-era town and Buffalo is the oldest incorporated town. So you start just piecing all of that together and you’ve got a pretty big story.”
Wilks, 66, grew up in western Pennsylvania, but did so as part of a family with roots in western West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture retiree didn’t experience much culture shock in relocating to the Kanawha Valley as part of a transition within his career. He eventually attended area chamber of commerce meetings and fell in love with the byway’s history.
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