West Virginia Book Festival

Bud Perry and “Reopening Glen Rogers”

Bud Perry was one of the first people I met when I came to the Gazette more than 15 years ago. He was a copy editor by that time, but he’d been many other things during his decades-long newspaper career in Charleston, Huntington and Beckley. He covered Ohio State sports as a reporter for the Herald-Dispatch, was a television analyst for Marshall University sports and received the key to the city from the Huntington mayor.

He was also an author: Bud and his friend, longtime state Senate assistant clerk Karl Lilly, wrote “Reopening Glen Rogers,” a history of the Wyoming County coal town where they grew up, in 1997. Every little West Virginia town should be so lucky, as to have a book like this written about it. The book’s opening paragraph captures the informal tone that Bud and Karl carried throughout:

If you were to attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of building a massive and complex industrial facility in one of the most remote hollow in all of Appalachia, a good name for the place would be Glen Rogers.

Former Gazette reporter Bob Schwarz wrote about the book when it came out:

Their book traces the rise and fall of a Wyoming County coal town, starting with the development of the mine in a remote hollow beginning in 1919. The town of Glen Rogers grew up around that mine, and soon a high school, too. Nine years after a bigger high school opened in 1951, the mine closed, and then 32 years after that, in 1992, the high school closed as well.

The authors, sons of miners themselves – their fathers later became Baptist pastors – grew up in Glen Rogers and went to high school there. They gathered their material through interviews and archival research. Lilly says he sifted through tens of thousands of pieces of paper, some of it in cardboard cartons.

The book devotes one major chapter to the mine’s longtime superintendent Joseph Wesley Marland, and another to his son Bill, who became West Virginia’s governor at 34. The governor, married and the father of four children, later battled alcoholism, drove a taxi in Chicago, and died at 47 of pancreatic cancer.

“Reopening Glen Rogers” also chronicles the deaths – 160 in all – of the people who mined the coal. Twenty-seven men died in an explosion in 1923, but most of the men died in accidents which claimed one life at a time. Few years went by without a death, and the annual toll was often three, four or five.

Among many other subjects in the book, there’s also mention of a huge basketball rivalry in 1962-63 between Glen Rogers High School (Bud’s alma mater) and Conley High School, the traditionally black high school in Wyoming County. Despite the efforts of a senior named “Buddy Perry” in the book, Glen Rogers could only split two games with Conley during the regular season, then lost to Conley again in the playoffs.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, some of this until I read it over the past couple of days. Bud died on Sunday; he’d been retired for nearly a decade, after heart bypass surgery. He was one of the old-time newspapermen, and I remember a conversation with him not long after I’d moved from the Gazette’s copy desk to the reporting side of the paper. In so many words, he told me he was sorry to see me go. “Not a lot of people get newspapers,” he said. “You get it.”

I have rarely valued a compliment more. Because Bud Perry absolutely got it.