The Faces of Barboursville: Some of the people who help make 'The best little village in the state'
BARBOURSVILLE — Its slogan is “The best little village in the state.”
With a beautiful park, vibrant shopping offerings, a charming Main Street area and many thriving organizations and programs, Barboursville certainly has the makings of a wonderful community. It has taken the long hours, commitment and talents of many to make the village a wonderful place to visit, to live and to raise a family.
The Herald-Dispatch has talked to five of the village’s many dedicated volunteers to offer a snapshot of how some are trying to improve their town even more.
Head on over to Barboursville’s Civil War Days any given year, and chances are, you’re going to come across Paul Barrett at the registration table.
Chances are you’ll chat with him for a moment or two, and chances are he’ll make sure you know how much history is out in Barboursville Park to explore.
That’s why he puts hours and hours into the background details of the event, from making sure there’s ice and water for the reenactors to manning the entrance. He said he has bad legs, so while the reenactors are out in the field bringing history to life, he works to make sure the other details are covered.
“I do odds and ends to make sure things run smoothly,” said Barrett, who has lived in Barboursville for six years. “I put in 12 to 15 hours a day over the four days. But (unlike the reenactors) I go home every night and sleep in my bed.”
Barrett grew up in Clarence, New York, which is a rural community outside of Buffalo. He moved to Cabell County in 1970 for his job and “never looked back,” said the retired salesman.
Simply put, he’s a history buff.
“Many in Barboursville have great-great-grandparents who fought in the Battle of Barboursville, which is interesting,” he said. “I always loved history in school. ... Kids can learn more in four hours (at Civil War Days) than four years in school.
“I try to encourage everyone to walk through and ask questions. The reenactors are really knowledgeable about that time period,” Barrett said. “They know about the hardships of living in the 1860s. It was a hard time.”
Outside of Civil War Days, Barrett said he does his best to keep Village Council informed of community concerns.
“I see something wrong in the village and I go to council meetings and I tell them,” he said. “Barboursville is a beautiful village, and it’s clean as a whistle.”
Naming all the organizations that Jack McKenna has been involved with over the years takes a lot of ink.
He was president of Barboursville’s Little League program three different times for 10 total years. He was president of the athletic boosters for Barboursville High School for two years. He was president of the youth basketball league for two years. He was on the initial board of directors for the startup of Cabell County youth soccer back in the 1980s.
But sports doesn’t quite cover it.
He was chairman of the advisory council of Barboursville High School for three years.
Today, at 75, he’s on the newly formed Barboursville Convention and Visitors Bureau and chairman of the park board.
“I’ve been on Barboursville park board seems like since there was corn out there in that field, under five different mayors,” McKenna said. “That was a county farm. It was run by prisoners. It was a good farm, a big farm.”
A 35-year resident of Barboursville, McKenna came with his family in 1978, for his work with Fox Grocery Co. He retired from Supervalu in 2000, and he is still keeping busy.
Last year, he helped with the Senior Games. Also, he continually handles maintenance at the Lyons Club Little League Field in Barboursville.
And he prides himself on the beauty of the park.
“It’s a nice facility and we’ll keep it nice,” he said. “I hope it stays in the condition it’s in for years.”
There’s yet another volunteer role in the community he’s been committed to as well. He’s been playing Santa Claus in churches, schools and other locations for 50 years.
“Other than that, I don’t do much,” he joked. “I love (volunteering), and I’m able. I’m in good health and as long as you can do it and like meeting people, that’s the main thing. I’ve met more good people than bad people.”
You know it’s worth it when, “You drive out (to the park) any time, really, and see hundreds of people enjoying the facilities out there,” McKenna said. “And next year we’re having the regional soccer tournament that brings several thousand people to town and that adds $15 million into the economy. Those are things (that are rewarding).”
Dr. Neil Gibbins
Any child who’s been through the former Pea Ridge Elementary or today’s Village of Barboursville Elementary in the past 20 years likely remembers Dr. Neil Gibbins.
During the school year, the 85-year-old retired Marshall professor heads over to the school every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to read to the five kindergarten classes and five first grade classes. Then he heads to the fifth-grade classes, where he delves into teaching them the sophisticated art of chess.
“When I retired from Marshall, I needed something to fill my time. I had always been a teacher and I just fell in,” Gibbins said.
He started by visiting Pea Ridge Elementary and then switched to Village of Barboursville after the schools consolidated.
Some of the kids really take a liking to chess, he said.
“We have a tournament,” he said, adding that it’s complete with medallions and trophies.
“It’s a classic game for the world,” Gibbins siad. “It’s something they can take with them forever. I’ve been interested since I was a sophomore in high school. I did some work with Marshall’s chess club.
“I could find 50 articles saying that chess (makes you smarter), but that’s very difficult to prove. I play chess for fun.”
As a life-long teacher, he’s also a true believer in the joy and the benefits of having a love of reading.
“I believe that reading is key to success in school and life,” he said. “I’d be willing to try and defend that if you can’t read, you’re going to be handicapped your whole life. If you can instill a love of reading, children can do well in school, which will problem mean they’ll do well in life.”
It was 2009. Jeanette Rowsey had been giving a tour of Barboursville and noticed some outdated information because properties were missing.
Rowsey was talking to her son about it, and he suggested she get all the Barboursville history filling her mind out onto the pages of a book.
The idea took hold, she said. So she became a resident Barboursville historian while writing “The Lost Village of Barboursville,” self published in 2013.
“I took a year and a half researching it and three years writing it,” said 55-year-old Rowsey, a seventh-generation Barboursville resident. “It was fascinating. The research itself was fun, and there was a lot of archival information in local libraries that had to be tapped into. I spent a lot of time doing that.
“The writing was the challenging part because I would always get to a part where I might be speculating, so I’d always have to go back to research. It was almost overkill research.”
For example, fascinated by the idea that Barboursville was one of the more tolerant communities in the area, she created a spreadsheet on the computer tracking every African-American person on the Census between 1800 and 1840, identifying who might have been a slave.
A number of African American families owned homes and were part of the community, which fascinated her, so she told a story of Barboursville as a relatively tolerant community.
“It was kind of like going on vacation in your town, finding unique discoveries and sharing those with people,” she said. “My family moved when I was a toddler to Indianapolis and came back to Barboursville when I was in junior high. I didn’t know much of the history then, but I could tell that it had history and character by the buildings and railroad tracks and the whole thing.
“Chief among that is the friendliness of the people. These were people my parents and grandparents grew up around, and I always felt that sense of home, even when I didn’t live here.”
Barboursville’s history has gotten somewhat overshadowed by Huntington’s, Rowsey said.
“When Huntington came along, Barboursville became invisible because Huntington got so big, and Barboursville is a little bedroom community. I don’t think peopel realize its rich history of a county center. We were a county seat of an area that encompasses seven counties. It was very influential, and that history kind of got buried.”
“The Lost Village of Barboursville,” which covers history back to 1813 and up to 2013, is available at Tower Food Fair, Empire Books, The Red Caboose, Drug Emporium and online at lostvillageofbarboursville.com.
Rowsey also has a Facebook page with almost 1,200 followers. She’ll be a featured author in the Ohio River Festival of Books, presenting Sept. 15 at the Barboursville library.
“I’ve been inspired by the great feedback and letters from people. It’s been really rewarding,” she said.
Four years ago, Jennifer Anderson was asked to be the PTO president at Village of Barboursville Elementary School.
She decided it was a perfect opportunity to “get on my soapbox” to talk to the kids about healthy lifestyles.
“That opened some doors and allowed me to do that,” she said. And she’s been spreading her message — promoting exercise and nutrition — ever since through a variety of programs at the school.
One is an annual Healthy Habits Day hosted at the school.
“It’s hands-on and interactive. They experience things they maybe wouldn’t experience outside school — from yoga to a nurse telling them about what diabetes can do to their bodies.”
They also learn about preventative care and safety, and it’s a wonderful way to involve the whole community, she said.
Anderson also heads up the school’s Mileage Club, in which kids walk or run around the school’s track and earn small rewards.
“I teach them about pacing and goal setting,” she said. “They do eight laps for a mile. They fill up their cards and they get little tokens and different incentives. ... I challenge them to do a 5K outside of school.”
Organized through St. Mary’s Medical Center and available to all schools in the area, it’s been a great program to help some kids make friends during recess, she said.
“They started doing it and they made buddies,” Anderson said. “It opened up social interaction for them. I sent out a newsletter, and it recognizes them and shows who got a five-mile goal, etc. They see their names. It’s not competitive, but it’s a personal goal.”
She hopes they’re learning life skills.
“Although (running) can be competitive, it also teaches endurance, life skills, no quitting,” she said. “We all have challenges in our life, and running prepares us for that. It’s not just running.”
Beyond that, Anderson is also program coordinator for “Girls on the Run,” an after-school program offered last year at Village of Barboursville and Spring Hill elementary schools.
Fifteen girls at each school underwent a 10-week curriculum that covered self-esteem, dealing with bullies, nutrition and running.
“Not every girl has to run, but their goal is to complete a 5K at the end of the 10-week period,” Anderson said. “We did it in April. Each had a running buddy. Most had a parent, which is great because it gets parents running. It’s not competitive — it’s just to get them to that goal of completing that 5K.”
Six schools are expected to be on board next school year, she said.
“We saw big changes in those kids who participated,” she said. “They come from different places — some might have had anger issues, and we teach how to deal with that.... It’s been great.
“I do it because — it’s cliche — but it takes a village. We tell our kids to take something you like and make a career, but we should also tell them to find something to do to help their community. If you want to collect newspapers to recycle or do something for your school, do that.”
Anderson is the mother of four, and her youngest is the only who’s still elementary school.
She said she never got as involved when her older kids — now in college and high school — were young.
“I sat on the sidelines and didn’t know how to get involved,” she said. “I hope parents see that you can get up and get involved. (Principal Teresa Blake) is awesome. She loves her parents and is cordial and mindful of health. She’s very willing to make room for me and we have a great PE staff. I don’t work alone. I have many people involved in helping me with everything I do.
“If you have a child in a school, contact the PTO. We have an inside (look) at what’s going on.”