WV Press Staff Reports
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Mountain State commemorated its 160th birthday on Tuesday with a celebration at the Culture Center in Charleston. On hand for the festivities were Governor and First Lady Jim and Cathy Justice – along with Babydog – and Secretary Randall Reid-Smith from the W.Va. Department of Arts, Culture and History.
“Y’all tell the truth – would you have rather seen the first lady, the governor, or Babydog?” Gov. Justice asked to begin the program. “Well, she’s happy to be with you, that’s for sure.”
The event kicked off with an opening prayer led by Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, and a rendition of “The West Virginia Hills,” performed on-stage by 65 of the state’s school children. Capitol High School Show Choir Director Leslie Riedel served as the group’s conductor, with West Virginia State University Artist in Residence Dr. Josh O’Dell accompanying on the piano.
After the performance, Reid-Smith reintroduced Gov. Justice as being, “A man who needs no introduction,” adding that, “What he has done for everything that we do in this building is amazing.”
“But the thing that I love the most about this governor,” Reid-Smith noted, while pointing to the 65 children on stage,” If you look over there – he loves kids, each and every one of them in our state.”
After thanking Reid-Smith for his words, Gov. Justice said, “It’s an honor to be ruttering a boat that is capable of doing really, really neat and good stuff.”
“Forever, a lot of people have made bad jokes about West Virginia, and said we were poor and not very smart,” Gov. Justice continued. “I knew exactly how great all of you are. You see, we’re a faith-based people. We’re a people who are craftsmen. We’re people who know the difference between right and wrong, and try to do the right stuff even though we fail sometimes.”
“We’re a state that abounds in natural resources like nobody’s business,” Justice added. “It’s not just coal, and oil and gas – it’s timber and water. We’re a state that’s within a rock’s-throw of two-thirds of the population of this country. The seasons are unbelievable. The air is pristine, as is the water. Every day, we live in absolute paradise – and the world just didn’t know it.”
Gov. Justice said he is “guilty” of Reid-Smith’s assessment that “he loves kids,” expressing his belief that arts and culture are vital to the growth of West Virginian society.
“I go back to that guy who said a long time ago, ‘Any frog that’s not proud of his own pond isn’t much of a frog,’” Gov. Justice said. “We needed to be proud. “Now look what’s happened – all of a sudden you have become the diamond in the rough that everybody missed.”
“Instead of the bad joke, you’re the diamond,” Gov. Justice added. “Our future is really bright.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, Gov. Justice read a quote from Pres. John F. Kennedy.
“West Virginia has known sunshine and rain for over 100 years,” Gov. Justice read. “But I know no state whose people feel more strongly – who have a greater sense of pride in themselves, their state, and their country – than the people of West Virginia.”
Reid-Smith then took a moment to recognize past recipients of West Virginia’s Golden Horseshoe Award who were in attendance, before making the surprise announcement that Cathy Justice would be recognized as an honorary recipient. On hand to perform Cathy Justice’s knighting ceremony was W.Va.’s Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Michell Blatt. The first lady was nominated for honorary induction by Greenbrier County Superintendent Jeff Bryant, for her, “Significant contributions to West Virginia, and the Golden Horseshoe program.”
After being inducted – as well as being treated to a piano-rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” performed by a Barboursville High School student – Cathy Justice introduced Cindy Scott and Sandy Murdoch as the winners of the “West Virginia Birthday Punch Contest.”
At the conclusion of a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday, West Virginia,” sung by those in attendance, Irish tenor Emmet Cahill was introduced to the stage to perform both “Danny Boy,” and “My Home Among the Hills” for the governor and first lady.
Once he had shared a piece of birthday cake with Babydog – and after presiding over the customary blue and gold balloon drop – Gov. Justice ended the program by saying, “What an incredible day. This just really shows what West Virginians can do.”