When does a memorial cease to become a memorial? When it involves money


Dickenson Memorial and Industrial High School in Clintwood, VA

(Previous blog post on DMHS and a recent podcast)

It’s Thursday, June 22nd, and I am preparing myself to head to my hometown of Clintwood, in the heart of economically depressed Appalachia, what was once “Coal Country” and the home of “King Coal”, to report on a county board of supervisors meeting.

Tonight, the agenda will discuss many topics, including taking a vote on a 2017-18 FY budget of 25 million dollars. A no-frills budget with room for very little spending in a county that has little or no economic growth or motivators at present, nothing going for it because either the people are so set in their ways or the political leaders that make decisions that don’t want change.

Not much is there now in the line of economic drivers for jobs and industry. Some mining has returned fresh from the promises of a new president but Clintwood and Dickenson County is still the same as it was one year ago, two years ago, even four years ago and beyond, searching for its identity in a region that the outside world seems hellbent on removing from the face or pages of history.

Also on that agenda tonight will be a woman, speaking on behalf of the Dickenson County Historical Society. This woman, Susan Mullins, who is a dedicated woman to preserving the county’s vast resources of history and also dedicated to Appalachian history as it pertains to Dickenson County, will once again stand before the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors to plead her case as to why Dickenson Memorial and Industrial High School should stand, not be sold and destroyed and be deeded over to the DCHS to give them a chance at preserving the building as a historical landmark and also for the purpose it first established for; a memorial and new home for the cramped and running out of space, historical society.

The definition of a memorial is something serving as a remembrance. When it was first approved by the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors back in the late 1910’s, the purpose of the building was to serve as a more lasting memorial to the brave young men from Dickenson County who gave their lives in the “war to end all wars”, World War I. When the Virginia General Assembly approved the measure, they gave their stamp of approval noting that the building would be a form of a war memorial to those young men while serving as the county’s first consolidated school.

Now, almost three years after the consolidation of the county high schools into the Ridgeview facility, DMHS sits idle, wasting away, awaiting the sale or “hoped for” sale of other county properties that it could perhaps be included in as pot sweetener to entice a future economic contributor.  For short, it is NOT one of the properties listed for sale in a marketing plan just put together in writing, after almost two years of the deeds sitting in the hands of the county board of supervisors.

Tonight, Susan will once again face a board of supervisors that has been at times, rude, childlike and disrespectful to her as a speaker and presenter, reminding one of the very child that might have occupied that old Dickenson Memorial and Industrial High School almost one hundred years ago that would ignore or refuse to listen to a teacher.

The last straw hit for me last month when the board began to finally question Susan as to who would pay the bills, upkeep and take care of the building. One supervisor, who is notorious for his quick seconds on any motion that comes down the pike, quickly retorted to Susan, “Who’s going to pay for it?” , which led another supervisor to quickly add, “Where’s your business plan?”

The truth is Mullins and the DCHS has outlined to the board what they would like to see done with DMHS on numerous occasions at numerous meetings.  It’s unfortunate that some of them just haven’t been paying attention or cared to listen to what she has had to say. The DCHS has been on numerous occasions stood before the board, hand outstretched to offer the board a chance to make a new home for the Dickenson County Historical Society possible but like a child, refused to reason or for that matter listen to what the message is.

At the close of the meeting to go into closed business session, I asked the members of the board of supervisors a pointed question, “Where is your business or marketing plan?” Some looked downright stunned at my question.

One supervisor had the guts to speak up and say that the properties had been put into a marketing plan for one year.  Problem is, what I found out later was that the DMHS property is NOT a part of the plan.  Makes you wonder.

One supervisor told the media in a recorded interview it would cost the DCHS a total of $7 million dollars to fix the building up for the historical society’s needs.  Wrong.  That was a Skansa proposal for the county to turn the DMHS into added courthouse space and open office space.

The historical society is not even asking for money from the county to accomplish the renovations that need to be done.  Those renovations would have to be done through grants that DCHS has been looking into to see if they qualify. They qualify but only if they have ownership of the deed.

So, about that memorial. Here’s a question.  How many of those board members have a family relative or forefather that served in World War I? What about the families that still have kin to the young men who gave their lives in World War I from Dickenson County?

I seem to recall a similar situation but involving Bedford, VA, who lost 23 soldiers involving D-Day and the Normandy campaign. The town of Bedford, then about 3,200 residents, suffered the nation’s most severe D-day losses. Their loss and consequential fight for funding and against politics led to the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA.

By no means did Dickenson County suffer the greatest losses of World War I but for a small county tucked away in Southwest Virginia, where family means everything and one’s service to country is considered an honor and a privilege, shouldn’t those young men’s lives mean something?

It did to a group of board of supervisors back at the end of World War I.  It should mean something to this group of supervisors in 2017, one hundred years after the United States became involved in the first World War in preserving their memory and keeping history alive instead of letting it sit and rot away.

Yes, those supervisors took a chance on more than a granite slab as a memorial and became involved. Those young men went to battle not knowing what they would face only that they were protecting our freedom and the United States of America.

Have our supervisors forgotten that World War I comes before World War II and the Greatest Generation? A “Greater Generation” that has been forgotten about by history and our society.

I think with the DCHS obtaining the old DMHS, the stage is set for a tribute and a continuing memorial to those county World War I veterans, and those veterans after the war to end all wars. Proof of that is the pictures on the wall of the cramped home of the historical society now in addition to giving them the opportunity to feature music and displays of Dickenson County life and life in Appalachia.

It’s something that people outside Appalachia are craving and want to know about a time that was simpler and more meaningful.

So, the question is for the Dickenson County board of supervisors; when does a memorial cease to become a memorial?

When it involves money.

And from all indications, money is the only thing driving this decision to keep it out of the hands of someone, or in this case, the Dickenson County Historical Society, that you feel can do something with it and prosper and you won’t be able to take credit for it.

It won’t happen overnight as I have witnessed with several other historical associations around the area but when it does begin to blossom, oh, the beautiful flower you will have planted in an otherwise a field of political thorns and brush.

It’s just typical local politics in Appalachia where we cut off our nose or let others do it to spite our face.

10 thoughts on “When does a memorial cease to become a memorial? When it involves money

  1. Rite on all counts!

  2. If the DCHS can get grants to renovate this building, I don’t see why the BOS wouldn’t jump at the chance to turn the building over to them. I may be wrong, but I don’t forsee a lot of industry coming into Dickenson County and wanting to use this building. Wouldn’t it be better to have a nice, renovated building than one that is falling down, sitting empty. That would certainly look better to potential companies or businesses.

  3. I believe that the building should definitely be saved and given to the historical society. My great uncle, Garland Wright, was one of those young men who gave his life in World War I. I was always proud to see his name on that plaque. My mother graduated from there and shortly thereafter joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. My husband and I went to elementary school in that building for 7 years, and my 2 sons attended high school classes there, too. I also came back to Dickenson County and taught school for 30 years, a few of those years in that building until the new Clintwood Elementary was completed.

    The historical society does a wonderful job, and I’m proud to say that many of our county veterans’ pictures hanging on those crowded walls of their current facility include many of my relatives, including my mom and my husband. If all the historical society needs is the deed, then I think the BOS should give it to them. I don’t think we’re going to have someone coming into the county wanting to buy it. If grants are available, I know a member of the society who has good experience in writing grant proposals. Memorials need to be saved to remind us of the sacrifices that have been made to keep us a free nation, and also of the men and women who are still willing to give their lives for that same purpose today.


  4. I strongly agree that the buildings should be preserved for the historical aspect of the county and area. Stop fighting like children and get a grip. All things are not about money. BOS open your eyes and see what this project could really mean to the PEOPLE of the area.

  5. You, the article, lost me at your phrase “promises of a “emperor” president”. This should not be involved with politics, this is to raise interest and/or money to save DMHS/CHS by ALL people, so don’t bring your politics into the message, you are turning off lots of people. Enough said.

    • Ms. Davenport, the “emperor” comment has been corrected as I see your point but I do differ with your assessment that this “should not be involved in politics”. It has been for a long time when it comes to the coal industry and how things have been run in Appalachia and especially, Dickenson County, VA. I was not bringing my politics into the message but merely stating that the “emperor” president reference was one in which he was going to save coal but never addressing how it would save the communities that have supported coal like Dickenson County for over one hundred years. I have allowed your comment but felt it was necessary to address your remark and also make a correction on my labeling of the president.

  6. I attended elementary school at DMHS before being shipped to Longs Fork Elementary in 4th grade. While in high school I marched the basement hallways for band practice. This building is a part of anyone that grew up in the town of Clintwood and should be saved. Some things never change.

    • Ms. Greear, thanks for pointing out some errors in the piece. It’s always good to have a second set of eyes. They have been corrected. Thank you!

  7. Can you imagine what a draw this would be to Dickenson County for the children who left this place to earn a living but now want to learn more about their ancestry in this county? Their children and grandchildren who want to learn about this place hidden in the mountains of Virginia would find it so meaningful. This county once thrived with timbering companies as well as the coal mining industry. So many of our young men went to war, some never to return. The Historical Society deserves to have this building in the heart of Clintwood, easily accessible to all who want to learn about our past here as well as to memorialize those brave young men. This is worth more than any funds the BOS would receive selling it, or tearing it down.

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