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State capitol hosts Jefferson Day event

By Staff | Feb 25, 2011

CHARLESTON – Monday the West Virginia House and Senate passed resolutions declaring Feb. 21 Jefferson County Day at the Capitol, which will begin what organizers hope to be an annual event in Charleston.

It was the brainchild of Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, who said the affair has been “10 years in the making.”

‘A step forward’

Lawrence first thought of the idea as an intern in Charleston, saying she wanted hundreds of people from her county to convene at the Capitol.

Lawrence worked with Cheryl Keyrouze, president of West Virginia Communication Outreach of Jefferson County, to organize the daylong event that they hoped would shake the disconnect so many Eastern Panhandlers admit they feel between themselves and Charleston.

“This is definitely a step forward,” Keyrouze said of the Legislature passing the resolutions.

But she said the relationship between Jefferson County and the capital city must be quid pro quo.

“You know, we could say that Charleston doesn’t recognize the Eastern Panhandle, but if we don’t reach out to Charleston and try to confirm that relationship, then there will be no relationship,” she said.

Lawrence echoed Keyrouze’s sentiments.

“The main goal is to just really build that relationship between the Eastern Panhandle and Charleston to showcase to my colleagues … that we are very proud to be a part of this state,” she said.

‘Tourism begets business’

Dozens of representatives from five different groups – education, economic development, arts and humanities, tourism and cultural heritage and commerce – were present to educate attendees on what the Eastern Panhandle has to offer.

Paul Espinosa attended the event in the capacity of general manager of Frontier Communications. He is also president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

With his positions revolving around economic development, Espinosa thinks it’s important that businesses are supported in the county.

“We very much depend on a positive business climate,” he said. “I think it’s important for us in the Eastern Panhandle to be involved – tell the good story that we have in Jefferson County.”

Erwin and Carol Asam, the owners of the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, have a keen interest in tourism. But Carol, who is also a regional representative of West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association and president of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center, said tourism and business go hand in hand.

“Tourism really begets business,” she said.

She said tourists come and explore stores, eat in restaurants and stay in the local lodging. “We believe that tourism, after coal, is the major income to the state,” Erwin said.

And the Asams said that it was nice to see the local delegation also present at Monday’s event.

Lawrence read the resolution in the House, while Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, stood for Jefferson County Day participants in the Senate. Elected officials from the county who were present included Jefferson County Commissioners Dale Manuel and Lyn Widmyer. Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson; Bob Tabb, deputy commissioner of the Department of Agriculture; and Judge John Yoder of the 23rd Circuit Court also were present.

‘It’s not about convenience’

Doyle said he hoped Jefferson residents at Monday’s event got the opportunity to interact and talk about issues within the county with legislators outside their constituency.

“It’s one thing if somebody like Tiffany Lawrence or I explain it. They’re expecting us to stand up for our people,” he said. “But when they hear from the people who live there … it personalizes it and it drives it home more.”

Paula Marrone-Reese, executive director of Good Shepherd Caregivers, said she has been to Charleston many times asking for help for the nonprofit that provides free volunteer services to seniors and disabled individuals in the Eastern Panhandle. But she attended Jefferson County Day to continue to make her organization even more heard.

“Anytime we can have a chance to let our Legislature … know what we do, we’re going to take the chance,” Marrone-Reese said.

While some in the Panhandle may feel forgotten, Marrone-Reese simply feels it’s a matter of what is convenient for people in Charleston.

“(Jefferson County residents are) still willing to come (to Charleston) because it’s not about convenience for us,” she said. “It’s about importance.”

She added, “It’s important to let them know that the Eastern Panhandle is in the Eastern Panhandle, and that we want to be part of the communication with the rest of the state.”