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Wayne County: Community is defined by its residents

Jul. 06, 2011 @ 12:15 PM

Talk to residents in any of the communities in Wayne County and they'll tell you the same thing. It's the people that make their county special.

"We focus on the real values of life and less on the material rat race," said Ric Griffith, Kenova's mayor. "I am blessed and inspired by the people here.

"There are things that make us a special town, but it's the people that really make us special," he said.

"Everybody knows their neighbors. We look out after each other," said Wayne's former longtime mayor James Ramey III about his community. "It's a nice little town. It's out in the country a little bit, but it's a good place."

Ramey served as mayor for 26 years, until he was ousted on June 14 when he lost the race to challenger Dwayne Stiltner. Stiltner took office on Friday, July 1. After winning the election, Stiltner said he believes the Town of Wayne is ripe for change. "I want to try to get new activities in the community for kids, and I have a few ideas for incentives to draw new, local businesses to town," he said.

But even though his run as mayor has come to an end, Ramey still plans to remain in his hometown and participate in its growth. In fact, having traveled to every state in the United States, Ramey says he hasn't found anywhere as good as Wayne. "There's no place I like better," he said. "I love this little town."

Owning the local hotel allows Ramey to see firsthand the number of out-of-town visitors in Wayne. He said that East Lynn Lake and Beech Fork State Park are great attractions, but the majority of people are just returning to their hometown.

"We have so many family reunions it's unbelievable," he said. "There's nobody that has as many family reunions as Wayne. People are coming back home."

Homecomings are something that the city of Ceredo knows a lot about as well. Each year, the city park hosts a Ceredo Reunion open to all current and former residents. "People set their vacations around it to come," said longtime resident Caroll Conner.

"Everybody cares for each other. Everybody loves this community," Conner said. "We work together for the better good of the citizens. We have cooperation in our community," she said.

Historical markers at the county borders tell us that Wayne County, which was named in honor of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, was created from part of Cabell County by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on Jan. 18, 1842. But anyone looking for the real history of the county should spend the day with Conner in the Ceredo Museum, where she is the director.

The Museum is a treasure trove of historical items including genealogy and cemetery books for the county, military items from area servicemen and a map of the city with the original parcels marked. There is also a collection of items from Ceredo-Kenova High School, including every yearbook from the school, which closed in 1998.

Of course, you can't think of Ceredo without thinking of its next-door neighbor, Kenova. "Ceredo and Kenova are very closely knit," Griffith said. "It's two governments, but one community."

Griffith said that in the absence of C-K High School, the people of the two cities "feel a little less of that kindred spirit," but pride clearly still runs through the community's veins. In the summer, the C-K Alumni Band provides two free concerts at the gazebo in Kenova, as well as assistance to the community throughout the year. "Their efforts are much more than the obvious," Griffith said. "It's one of the great assets of Ceredo-Kenova."

Kenova is also home to Virginia Point, a park where you can see Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia come together -- the circumstance which gives Kenova its name. Not far away is historic Dreamland Pool, which opened in 1926. Dreamland hosted many major big band acts during its heyday in the 1940s.

"It's a Tri-State landmark. I'm proud that the city and park board have worked together to preserve it," Griffith said. He is hoping to once again bring concerts to Dreamland and make it useable for more than just the three-month pool season.

These days, however, Kenova is probably best known for the Pumpkin House, or as Griffith jokingly refers to it, "that crazy pumpkin thing that we do."

An estimated 20,000 people a year visit Griffith's home at 748 Beech St. to see the 3,000 pumpkins he and numerous volunteers carve. "I'm only part of it," he said. "It's a wonderful effort of hundreds of people from all over the Tri-State."

This year, there will once again be a festival associated with the Pumpkin House and Griffith credits people from both Kenova and Ceredo for coming together to make it happen. "What a blessing that is. And it's going to grow even more," he said.

"There is in Kenova, and Ceredo too, a sense of community that is comparable to family. And like a family, people are extremely proud," Griffith said. "They are willing to help."