Laura Dean Bennett
For 62 years, West Virginia counties have each selected one special lady to be its “County Belle” to represent them at the annual West Virginia Folk Festival in Glenville.
The festival, which just celebrated its 67th year, seeks to preserve and honor the traditional pioneer way of life.
It features old-time music and singing, square dancing, storytelling, heritage crafts and food preparation as participants, guests and the “belles” of West Virginia come together to keep West Virginia’s cultural heritage alive.
Each county is invited to send a representative to the festival.
The “belles” must be at least 70 years old and possess qualities consistent with the spirit of a pioneer woman.
They personify our culture, traditions, values, crafts and work skills, as they take part in festival events wearing their period costumes.
Exhibiting the spirit of a pioneer woman means that the belles are not only well-versed in such skills as canning, baking, sewing and household management, but they are community-minded and charitable leaders of their communities.
These goodwill ambassadors are a unique feature of the Folk Festival, where new friendships are forged and old acquaintances renewed.
This year’s Pocahontas County Belle is Caroline Cassell.
Cassell has deep roots in Pocahontas County – she is the fifth generation of her family to be born and raised here. She is a daughter of the late Jess and Dorthy Tacy, of Cass, and the widow of Brown Cassell.
She is a dedicated mother and grandmother, and she still lives on the family farm in Cass. She likes quilting and meeting people.
Cassell is a member and solo singer of the Green Bank Senior Choir, and an elder and treasurer of the Alexander Presbyterian Church.
Being nominated to be the County Belle came as a delightful surprise to her.
“I don’t know who nominated me,” she said. “it was a shock.
“As far as I know, no one from Cass has ever been a Belle before. And what an honor!
“I told the festival committee that Pocahontas County is a beautiful county. It’s good for every sporting activity – skiing, boating, fishing, bike riding, mountain trails, train rides and camping. And there’s a lot of history here.
“We have state parks, safe schools, good churches and most of all, good neighbors.
“There is always something going on to keep you entertained – lots of festivals and a lot of historic interests in our county.
“You are always welcome here,” she added.
“This was the first time I’ve ever been to the festival, and the first time I was even to Glenville at all – although I have a grandson who went to college there.
“Brandy [Cassell], my granddaughter went to Glenville with me and helped me with everything.
“All the Belles are invited to bring a companion with them. Brandy and I had such a good time together.”
Cassell has held many jobs over the years, but many people may not know that, at one time, she portrayed “Brrr Rabbit” for the ski school at Snowshoe.
These days, she is somewhat of a local celebrity, known throughout Pocahontas County for her voice, her particular brand of humor, her love of old-time music, and her Allegheny Mountain Radio show, “Caroline on the Radio.”
Cassell has been broadcasting from the WVMR studio in Frost for seven years.
She does the “Caroline and Dwayne” show every Thursday at 10 a.m., the Gospel Hour other days from 10 to 11 a.m. and the “Country Hour with Piggy” every Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon.
“I’ve made a lot of friends being on the radio,” Cassell said with a laugh. “Most people tell me that they like the music I play, I guess because it’s older music, and a lot of people like that.”
Besides playing “older” music for her radio audience, Cassell also likes to sing old-time music.
“I’ve always liked singing,” she said. “I’ve been singing in the Green Bank Senior Choir for a long time and in the Allegheny Echoes Vocal Group for eleven or twelve years now, and I love it.”
Our Belle and her companion enjoyed all of the events at the Folk Festival.
Cassell and Brandy agree that one of Cassell’s favorite things was when the Belles sang together.
“Grandma met a lot of nice ladies, and they got to perform together,” Brandy said.
“They all sang “West Virginia Hills” at the Friday evening concert at the Glenville State College auditorium.
“I know Grandma loved that – she loves to sing, and it was nice to see her enjoying herself.
“I know Grandma might have originally wanted one of her daughters to go with her, but it worked out that I got to go.
“I’m her only granddaughter, and it was really great to be able to go with her to the festival and spend this special time together.
“You know, there’s a big difference between spending time with a grandparent when you’re a child and when you’re an adult.
“This was a special bonding experience for us.
“I have to say, Grandma’s in her 80s, and it was the experience of a lifetime for her,” Brandy added.
The bonding experience wasn’t without its surprises.
“Brandy and I thought we wouldn’t know anybody there – but we were wrong,” Cassell said, laughing.
“It was a big surprise when my daughter, Jetta Wilfong, and my daughter-in-law, Cheryl Cassell, showed up.
“Those rascals told me they couldn’t come. I was so happy to see them.”
They met at the gospel sing at the Methodist church on Saturday afternoon.
“It was a nice page for our family’s memory book to see Mom at her finest,” Wilfong said.
“She really enjoyed it. She got to sing, and she got to be glamorous.
“About a week before the festival Mom was worried because the arthritis in her shoulder had flared up. She went to the doctor and got a shot, and we all laughed about it and said, ‘Well, of course, she had to make sure she could do her beauty queen wave,”’ Wilfong said with a smile.
Cassell’s daughter-in-law, Cheryl, enjoyed the festival, too.
“It was a nice day and the parade was really nice,” she said. “Some of the Belles walked and some, like Caroline, rode on the Belles Float.
“I thought the gospel sing was really special and I know Caroline liked it, too. She likes to sing whenever she gets a chance.
“Caroline had two old-fashioned dresses, and she looked so nice.”
Cassell said she had a good time when the Belles met Friday afternoon at the home of Ike and Sue Morris, who host a tea at their home each year.
The Belles were graciously welcomed by Mrs. Morris and given a tour of the Morris’ beautiful Glenville home and its surrounding manicured gardens and grounds.
Mr. and Mrs. Morris have been sponsors of the Folk Festival for several years.
“I liked seeing everything, and I really enjoyed the people,” Cassell said of the festival.
“I met a lot of very nice people. All the Belles were great, and everyone we met was so friendly.
“The festival committee had a lot of activities for us to do. We were busy the whole time.
“I liked a lot of things, but my favorite was the parade. It was a lot of fun.
“It was sunny and real hot that day, so I was glad I had a parasol – and it matched my dress.
“All weekend long, all through the town, when people saw us in our sashes, they welcomed us and let us know that they were glad to have us there.”
When Cassell was asked about her advice for young women, she said:
“Always be honest and do your best job at anything you do.
“Never give up and you will accomplish whatever your goal in life is.
“I was proud to be a Pocahontas County Belle and glad to represent our county,” Cassell said, smiling.
“And I would definitely recommend other ladies consider being a Pocahontas County Belle.”
Cassell will ride in the Pioneer Days Grand Parade Saturday evening at 6 p.m. Her chariot will be an antique car furnished by Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.