POINT PLEASANT — The year 2015 was a memorable one in Mason County and within the 253 editions of the Point Pleasant Register, were some equally memorable stories.
Though “memorable” is in the eye of the beholder, the staff at the Point Pleasant Register has chosen five stories which either had the most response from our readers and/or will have the most impact on the area in the future.
The completion of U.S. 35
As for the most impact for the future of the area, the announcement of the completion of U.S. 35 through Mason and Putnam counties was welcome news to many. In October, a ceremonial ground breaking was held to celebrate the road’s completion which will entail taking the last remaining 14.6 miles of two-lane highway and turning it into four lanes using the innovative public-private partnership financing option, not the use of tolls. The ceremony celebrated a $174 million grade and drain contract that will construct the new four-lane road between W.Va. 869 (Buffalo Bridge) in Putnam County and County Route 40 (Upper Nine Mile Creek) in Mason County.
Bizzack Construction, of Lexington, Ky., is the contractor and this phase of the project is to be completed by the fall of 2018. Upon completion of the earthwork project, an estimated $70 million paving contract will follow with the completed project scheduled to open to traffic in the spring of 2019.
Law enforcement honors fallen deputy
When it came to response from the readers, oddly enough a video clip on the Point Pleasant Register’s Facebook page had the most views of the year – more than any other video or story posted. The hands down “winner” in this category was a video clip of law enforcement officers from throughout Mason County showing respect during a moment of silence at the exact moment slain Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth was to be laid to rest in Texas. During a tough year for law enforcement, Goforth’s brothers in Mason County showed their solidarity back in September by lining up their cruisers along Jackson Ave. and turning on their blue lights in silence, in the field formerly occupied by the old Point Pleasant High School.
Once the minute of silence ended, names of law enforcement officers from across the country who were killed just in August alone were read, along with their dates of death. Following the reading of names, was a closing prayer. Participating in the show of solidarity were the Mason County Sheriff’s Department, West Virginia State Police, Point Pleasant Police Department, Mason Police Department, Hartford Police Department, Lakin Correctional Center, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and West Virginia State Parks. Also participating and providing support, as well as a ladder truck for the video and photos to preserve the moment, was the Point Pleasant Fire Department.
In less than 24 hours after posting it, this short video clip of the officers in their moment of silence reached over 100,000 people on Facebook – pretty astounding considering the population in Mason County is less than 28,000. In all the video was shared 618 times and received 933 likes. In addition, those commenting on the video were residents from Texas expressing their thanks for the support from West Virginia.
The ‘Power of Paul’
The utilization of video and Facebook were powerful tools this year for reaching readers, as was a powerful moment at the graduation and commencement ceremony for Point Pleasant High School’s Class of 2015. Senior Paul Holley entered the procession in a wheelchair, but as those at the ceremony know, he did not stay in one. When Holley was a sophomore, he was involved in a severe automobile accident and injured his C-6 vertebrae, which left it unclear if he would ever walk again, let alone live. After two years of working on his rehabilitation, Holley was determined to walk to his diploma and did just that. With some help from friends, Holley stood when his name was called at commencement, and with the use of a walker, steadied himself and walked himself to receive his diploma. His classmates began to stand and cheer his name and the entire crowd gathered at PPJ/SHS gave him a standing ovation.
The video of Holley walking to his diploma was one of the most popular uploads to the Point Pleasant Register’s Facebook page in 2015, reaching more than 30,000 people, with over 800 likes and 256 shares.
‘Andrea and Willy’s Law’ is signed
Back in May, a law years in the making was signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “Andrea and Willy’s Law” established tough penalties for driving while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances or drugs. The law’s namesakes are the late Andrea Bailes and Willy Shuman, the latter of which was a graduate of George Washington High School. Bailes, who was from Mason County, had her life taken from her on Nov. 18, 2011 at the age of 14 as a result of a drunk driving crash. The crash was caused by a drunk driver who had eight previous convictions. Shuman, a passenger in a vehicle, was killed in a drunk driving crash just days before heading to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Members of Shuman’s family as well as friends and family of Andrea’s were on hand for the ceremonial signing of the bill into law. Andrea’s mother, Deana Spaulding, met with Governor Tomblin and shook his hand, speaking herself at the ceremony. Spaulding has been a vocal advocate for tougher drunk driving penalties and educating the public on the dangers of driving drunk. She was a crusader for getting the bill turned into the law of the land in memory of her daughter and to hopefully prevent future tragedies.
Being true to his school
As the year drew to a close, a man known for his loyalty to his school and love of sports writing was recognized after his battle with cancer intensified. Gary Clark is best known for his countless contributions to Wahama High School, rather it be his 40-plus years of covering White Falcon sporting events as a journalist or even more recently as a radio commentator. Recently, Clark’s bout with cancer had been deemed terminal by his doctors. Given what Clark has meant to the Bend Area, a term that he created in print for the WHS school district, officials at Wahama decided it was a necessity to honor Clark for his 50-plus years of dedication to the Red and White while there was still time.
So, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, the hardwood floor at Wahama was dedicated in honor of Clark’s legacy and life. Gary’s former high school coach in all three sports, Grant Barnette, announced at halftime of the Wahama-Southern boys basketball contest that all indoor games in the high school gymnasium will now be played on Gary Clark Court.
In perhaps an unknown characteristic that proves his unique quality, back on Dec. 15, Clark wasn’t spending his final days reflecting on himself. He said he’d rather focus on what could be for his beloved alma mater.
“I’m at peace with what is coming. I’ve lived a very blessed life and there isn’t much I would change about my 63 years. I’d very easily do the same things again if given the opportunity,” Clark said. “If I had one wish for Wahama, I’d really like to see them not only get back to the state tournament in basketball … but I’d also like to see them win a state title in the one sport we don’t have one in. Hopefully some day, it’ll come.”
Thank you, Gary, for always being a team player, from your colleagues at the Point Pleasant Register and Ohio Valley Publishing.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.