Some of the leaders who help make Wayne County, W.Va., better and stronger
Wayne County — peaceful and pastoral today — is named for an American war hero, Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who defeated the Shawnee Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, clearing the way for white settlers to safely enter the region and begin claiming homesteads.
Despite its bloody beginnings, the county has remained a quiet, rural-to-suburban area known as the “Western Gate to the Mountain State” and celebrated for strong family ties and traditions.
But the county has also maintained its pioneering spirit, and that is evident today in the work of community champions who are are devoting their time, talent and energy to improving education, cementing community pride, pushing for economic development and preserving the history of Wayne County.
Here are three of their stories:
Jenni Butler and Wayne County for Education
As a mother of two and lifelong Kenova resident, Jenni Butler knew that closing Kenova Elementary and dispersing students from Ceredo-Kenova Middle School was not the best choice for the school district, the community or its students.
“It hit me on several different levels,” she said. “Obviously, on a personal level because I have lived in Kenova practically my whole life and it would impact my children and where they attended school.”
Butler is also a contracted speech pathologist with the school district, servicing four schools including Kenova Elementary.
“I want to see Wayne County Schools moving forward and see new schools opening and not closing,” she said.
Because of her unique perspective and vocal dissent of the school board’s plan, Butler was asked to lead a committee of Ceredo and Kenova residents with Charles Shumaker that would develop a new plan that the community would support.
“When you grow up in a small town, the schools are important to you,” she said. “I think we were all on the same page that we didn’t want any schools to close and we didn’t want to see any kids be dispersed. Many of us were from Kenova Elementary and we knew what it was like to be quickly uprooted.”
The original plan to disperse students from Ceredo and Kenova elementary schools and Ceredo-Kenova Middle School at the end of the 2013-2014 school year was axed. The district took the recommendations from the committee and decided on building a new Ceredo-Kenova Elementary School, which would allow students at schools in Ceredo and Kenova to continue classes at their current locations at least through the end of the 2014-15 school year, pending the passage of an $18 million bond.
The bond would also be used to construct a new Crum PreK-8 school and renovate Wayne High School. In total, it would affect more than 1,600 students in Wayne County.
Knowing voters had struck down a bond in 2012, Butler said everyone worked together to educate voters and register residents to vote.
“The big thing was educating people,” she said. “This bond had no frills. We just went out and educated everyone about what the raise in taxes would be and how it would impact them. It made a big difference just sitting down and talking to people.”
All that work paid off on May 13 when the bond passed with 56 percent of the vote.
Although Butler was one of the most visible figures on the committee, she said it was a true group effort.
“I didn’t do it alone,” she said. “We had a fabulous group of people working together to get this done.”
She said the committee has morphed into Wayne County for Education and they don’t plan to stop advocating for better schools and opportunities for students.
“There are plenty of schools in the county that need improvements and upgrades,” she said. “We’re going to keep the ball rolling.”
Joyce Clark and Westmoreland
Joyce Clark knows how to rally people together for a cause.
The Huntington City Councilwoman who represents Westmoreland — most of which is in Wayne County — has helped gain support for projects ranging from affordable housing to economic development.
She serves with the Huntington Housing Authority, the Housing Development Corporation, the Wayne County Economic Development Authority, the Westmoreland Women’s Club and the Westmoreland Neighborhood Association.
She’s pretty much the go-to person if you have a concern about the neighborhood.
With her help, the Westmoreland Neighborhood Association won a 20-year battle to keep a barge-mooring facility out of their back yard. She also worked to get a $30 million lodge and convention center built at Beech Fork State Park.
She served as Parent Teacher Association president at Kellogg Elementary, Westmoreland Middle and Vinson High schools. With the Women’s Club, she has helped raise money for scholarships that are awarded to Spring Valley High School students and contributions to the Golden Girl Youth Home in Kenova.
When it comes to being a volunteer, she’s done it all.
“With volunteerism, you are bitten and then you are engrossed in it to where you just do it; you don’t even think twice,” she said.
Clark said she knew she wanted to make a difference early in her life.
In high school, she said she would visit disabled children in the hospital to read and play with them. Inspired by her home economics teacher, Clark intended to teach the subject herself, but before she could graduate from college, her father fell ill and she felt she needed to start working right away. She went to beauty school and opened up a hair salon in her home, which allowed her to make her own schedule and really get involved.
The 65-year-old said her passion is “available, affordable, decent housing.”
She served as the executive director for Wayne County Habitat for Humanity where she oversaw the building of seven homes in Wayne County.
“That was my true passion,” she said. “I got to nail and hammer on the houses and that was such a blessing to see those families get into safe houses. If you have safe, affordable housing for folks who need it then you’ve got a much better attitude with the children when they’re in school because they know they’ve got a nice warm house to go home to.”
Clark was recently honored for her leadership by the Neighborhood Institute of Huntington.
She said she will continue to work to keep the area moving forward through her seat on city council and her volunteerism.
“The whole atmosphere in the city is changing and getting to be more forward-thinking and I feel that it’s an exciting time to be on council. We’re all working toward the best outcome possible.”
Howard Osburn and the Wayne County Genealogical and Historical Society
If you want to know about Wayne County’s past, Howard Osburn is the man to talk to.
The driving force behind the Wayne County Genealogical and Historical Society, the 83-year-old is practically a walking, talking encyclopedia — or Google search for the younger generation — on anything Wayne County.
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been interesting, he says. He spends 12 to 15 hours a day in his home office that is wall-to-wall with books and boxes filled with pictures, papers and more books.
It was a hobby that started back in the 1970s, he says, after his mother died.
“My mom was a real sweet lady and lovable person, but my mom never talked about her family outside her brothers and sisters,” he said. “She never talked about the old days and her mom and dad. I never heard her even mention a grandparent. I thought it was kind of strange, but it didn’t bother me. But after she died in 1976, it started bothering me.”
So he started compiling data on his family. He visited the courthouse, rummaged through files dating back to the 1700s, talked to locals — learned everything he could about the history of his family. In fact, he’s still connecting the dots today.
But his greatest contributions are through the society, which he helped charter in 1996.
His buddy and society president Herb Dawson admits the whole thing would go kaput without Osburn’s dedication — dedication that has driven him to organize massive amounts of information such as 53 years of the Wayne County News (that’s 10,000 pages of searchable text), more than 100 years of Census data and two huge volumes of the history of the Napier family, which alone took eight years to compile and includes 50,000 ancestors.
“Right now, on that little computer sitting there, I have a database that has about a quarter of a million people in it if you can even imagine that,” he said.
In addition to his research, he maintains the society’s website and publishes its quarterly newsletter.
Osburn has grown so attached to his work, he said he’d go crazy without it. It’s a good way to fill the time for a man who grew accustomed to working 14-hour days in oil and gas drilling.
He admits he does it because he thinks it’s interesting, but he’s also happy to help anyone wanting to learn a little — or a lot — about their family history.
To learn more about Osburn’s research and the Wayne County Genealogical and Historical Society, visit www.wcghs.com.