Pioneer Days returns with a bang

Mike and Mary Sue Burns played music before and between the Spelling Bee and History Contest held at the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum. Hallie Herold, center, was the “school marm” for spelling and Denise McNeel was the history quiz master. Photo courtesy of Denise McNeel
Hillsboro resident Ruth Taylor was the winner of the WVMR Liars Contest with her tale about Barefoot Bob –  a speedy wooly worm. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The town of Marlinton was filled last week with sights, sounds and aromas as Pioneer Days kicked off the return of socializing with friends and visitors in the county seat.

Vibrant and colorful arts, crafts and displays turned the Pocahontas County Opera House, Wellness Center and McClintic Library into exhibit halls to showcase talent and handmade wares.

The aroma of freshly popped kettle corn and savory and sweet fare from food trucks wafted through town, attracting the attention of festivalgoers from blocks away.

And, of course, the savory pork rinds and barbecue sandwiches and the sweet ice cream and cotton candy, mixed with the tart fresh squeezed lemonade turned the block around the Discovery Junction into a four star culinary delight.

Pioneer Days was back.

The badge featured Allegheny Mountain Radio, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Founded as WVMR July 9, 1981, the radio station expanded from one AM station to one AM and six FM stations serving Pocahontas County and Highland and Bath counties in Virginia.

Providing entertainment, news and emergency services information, the radio station has been a pillar of the community for the past 40 years and continues to be one of the most eclectic radio stations, playing music from all genres.

Employees and interns have come and gone through the years, but one couple has stood the test of time, working for the station since the late 90s. Married couple Chuck and Heather Niday work separately as program director and chief engineer, as well as together with their two-hour Jazz show, Something Different.

Heather began as a volunteer in 1998 and became a member of the staff in 2007.

When she learned WVMR was featured on the badge, Heather was pleased, although a little biased, to see the station recognized.

“It is wonderful, and frankly, long overdue,” she said, laughing. “It’s really nice that it worked out that we were getting recognition on our fortieth birthday. Really, really happy about that.”

As one of the employees who’s been there the longest, Heather said working for the radio station has been a joy.

“Once you get into this, once you become a part of it, it’s under your skin and you just can’t walk away from it,” she said. “It may sound trite – and I don’t say this just because my boss is standing next to me – this is the best group of people I have ever had the privilege to work with.

“I love my job,” she added. “It stresses me out to the max sometimes, but I love my job. I love this station. I love what I do.”

In addition to being featured on the badge, the radio station set up at the Discovery Junction to put faces to the voices of the station, as well as to enjoy the festivities.

“We get to come down here, and we get to talk to people,” Heather said. “People come up and say, ‘who are you?’ and you tell them, and they say, ‘oh, I listen to you all the time on the radio. It’s so nice to meet you.’ It makes it worth it.”

During her time at AMR, Heather has covered many Pioneer Days activities and said she looks forward to the event every year, but especially this year since the social distancing rules were lifted.

“The fact that it just feels like a family reunion,” she said of the festival. “We have so many people – you have a lot of visitors that come in, too – but you have so many locals coming down and everybody gets together. Especially after the last year when you couldn’t see anybody and you couldn’t hug anybody. It’s so nice to be able to hug your friends and talk to people face-to-face.”

With the 40th anniversary celebration and badge recognition, AMR decided to bring back a staple of past Pioneer Days – the Liars Contest.

Brave souls took the Discovery Junction stage and shared their best “lies” – stories to fit the theme “I heard it on the radio.”

Tales of chasing down a groundhog, trying to get a squirrel up in a tree, looking for the truth behind the legend of Bigfoot, stories from the Hammons family and the saga of a racing wooly worm entertained the crowd as the liars wove their yarns.

In the end, Ruth Taylor, of Hillsboro, was crowned the winner for her tale about her husband’s racing wooly worm.

According to Taylor, her husband, Bob, decided to enter the wooly worm race contest as part of the Autumn Harvest Festival many years ago. Bob found a worm, conditioned it to get used to people and got help from a neighbor girl named Dana and the couple’s Siberian Husky Princess to get the worm ready to win.

“At that time, we had a little neighbor, Dana, and she got really excited about this wooly room race, so she named the wooly worm Barefoot Bob,” Taylor said. “So I’m going to tell you the legend of Barefoot Bob.”

Princess would take Barefoot Bob into the backyard to practice running and by the time Autumn Harvest rolled around, the wooly worm had his sights set on first place.

“So, the day of the race, Bob was minding the store and he wasn’t going to come to Autumn Harvest and I wasn’t going to touch a worm, so I went next door and got Dana and she came over,” Taylor explained. “We got Barefoot Bob and brought him to the Autumn Harvest Festival.

“When we dumped him out on the table with all the other worms, Barefoot Bob took off like a streak of lightening right off the table before the other worms even realized where they were,” she continued. “So Dana caught the worm and got the ribbon, and we went back to tell Bob about him winning.”

But, sadly, the victory was short lived. Taylor said the race committee said Barefoot Bob must have been on steroids in order to run the way he did, so he needed to be tested. The committee also said Barefoot Bob was never allowed to race again.

“Now, I don’t know how you get a worm on steroids unless maybe it got in one of the marijuana fields in the neighborhood or something, but anyway, at that point, Barefoot Bob was put out to pasture, never to race again,” Taylor said. “And if you don’t believe that story, ask Gibbs Kinderman over there. He came and interviewed Bob and had it on WVMR.”

To clarify, Kinderman interviewed Bob Taylor, not Barefoot Bob.

James Malcolm won second place, and third place was a three-way tie between Donna McGinnis, Michael George and Steve Sessa.
Another staple of Pioneer Days is the Miss Pocahontas pageant where young ladies in the community are named Little Miss, Miss Teen and Miss Pocahontas.

Miss Pocahontas 2021 is Rachel Burns, of Marlinton, daughter of Doug and Stephanie Burns.

Being crowned Miss Pocahontas was particularly special to Burns because she has served as Little Miss and Miss Teen in the past.

“It means a lot to me because it’s the county I’m from, and I grew up here,” she said “I’ve heard that a lot of little girls look up to me, which means a lot. To have little girls come up to me and want to take pictures with me is nice. And just to represent Pocahontas County is also a big deal.”

As a Marlinton native, Burns has attended Pioneer Days since she was young and has always enjoyed seeing friends and family during the summer event.

“It’s always a fun time to see everybody that you miss over the summer because, with school out, you don’t get to see them as often,” she said. “Also family. It’s such a big deal for Pocahontas County and it’s a time when everybody gets together.”

While she has enjoyed participating in the pageants throughout the years, there is one thing that ranks higher when it comes to Pioneer Days.

“I’m not going to lie – eating the food,” she said is her favorite thing. “I love fair food. That would probably be my number one thing, but also, just walking around with friends and talking to everybody and getting to meet people that come from out of county to see everything.”

Spelling Bee and History at the Museum

Mike and Mary Sue Burns entertained before and between the Spelling Bee and History Contest on the lawn of the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum Saturday.

Hallie Herold was the “school marm” for the Spelling Bee.

Winners in the Youth Bee were: first place, Silas Dean, of Buckeye; second place, Ira Allen, of Charlestown.

In the Adult Division: First place, Cathy Mosesso, of Marlinton; second place, Suzie Meadows, of Lewisburg; third place, James Malcom, of Portsmouth, Virginia.

Denise McNeel quizzed contestants on their knowledge of Pocahontas County history and lore.

Winners were: First place, Ruth Taylor, of Hillsboro; second place, James Meadows, of Lewisburg; third place, Silas Dean, of Buckeye.

Denise McNeel contributed to this article.

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