The year 2014 brought a lot to the Clay County community; new leadership was chosen in the county, businesses opened and some closed, the county celebrated our little hometown with a variety of events, the roads were paved and the new Hartland Bridge was finally completed.
The year started off with a small crisis on January 9, 2014 when the Elk River was contaminated by the chemical 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) through a leaky tank at Freedom Industries in Charleston. One of nine counties affected, Clay County schools were the last to get the “all clear” to return to school and use the water for basic necessities. Rural H.E. White Elementary remained closed for days, one of the last areas to be lifted from restrictions. Volunteers came to the rescue and distributed water in bulk to the thousands of residents who were affected by the water crisis and many people still refuse to consume the water due to the potential health risks associated with the chemical.
Local celebrations were plentiful this year as residents had many opportunities to celebrate what the community has to offer. The newly established Easter Eggstravaganza and Elk River Fest entertained those of all ages and interests, the annual Golden Delicious Festival was a hit as always, the Farmer’s Market was in full swing this summer, and the MegaSports Camp and Picnic in the Parking Lot topped off the exciting affairs.
The county also benefited from many exciting visitors during 2014. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant visited with those at the both Clay senior centers as well as officials as the county courthouse, Senator Joe Manchin talked with residents and staff of Clay Health Care Center before travelling to the county seat for a Town Hall Q&A session, and the youth of the county enjoyed the motivational words of speaker Bill Sanders.
The community stood up to rally things important to the area, passing the Library Levy on the 2014 ballot and establishing the “What’s Next Clay County” group. The inspired people of the county have worked towards several changes this year, striving to make a difference to the place we call home. When the final ballots were counted, the 2014 election showed much of that new wave of thinking. Long time delegate member Dave Walker was defeated by newcomer Roger Hanshaw, a Republican business owner born and raised in the area. Incumbent Mike Pierson lost his county commission seat to Greg Fitzwater in the November election and two board of education seats were filled by David Pierson and fresh face Cheryl White. 2014 was also the end of an era for two long time officials of the county; the longest serving board of education member in the state, O. Gene King, was forced to retire from his position due to health reasons as was the familiar Magistrate Mike King. Other major changes in leadership for the year 2014 included the naming of replacement Magistrate Jeff Rider, 911 Director Denise Holcomb and DOH director T.J. Legg.
The faces of many businesses within the area have also seen a drastic change this year. After a violent robbery and assault, both locations of the restaurant Jesse Sez were forced to close their doors for good. Another break in at the corner joint Connie’s instigated that business selling out as well. The Corner Café and the Two Run Dairy Bar through their hats in the ring to be chosen as the premier lunch time hangout, but both were unsuccessful and closed shortly thereafter. Main Street Alive took over the long-time IGA building, opening M&M Thrift store in the upstairs section. Two prominent businesses in the area remained in place but were taken over by new management; the Bank of Gassaway is now known as Premier Bank and the former Clay Foodland now sports the picture of a friendly pig in every corner as Piggly Wiggly has moved into town.
Although the year has come and gone, the choices made by leadership and citizens of the county alike will have a tremendous impact on the year 2015 as well. Let’s hope for better choices, higher goals and brighter futures in the year to come.