By Wendy Holdren
“Success is not a path you follow, but a trail you blaze,” said Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Jim Brown Friday during the dedication ceremony of Marsh Fork Elementary School, the brand new home of the Bulldogs.
Before the ceremony started, several students offered tours to visitors, showcasing not only the state of the art building, but the leadership skills already being crafted there.
“The opening of the new Marsh Fork Elementary School is not only a milestone, but is also a journey that has taken many decades,” Brown said.
“On many levels this new school will set the standard for education in Raleigh County and throughout the entire state of West Virginia.”
The school features a smart board in every classroom, a recessed floor in the cafeteria, a beautiful gymnasium and security code locks on every classroom door.
Rick Snuffer, president of the Raleigh County Board of Education, said this is the completion of a five-year journey.
“When political differences are put aside, and students are put in mind, great things can be accomplished.”
Dave Cantley shared the history of the land with the officials, state leaders, teachers, parents and students who gathered at the dedication ceremony.
Kimberly Gross spoke on behalf of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who said the school has his complete support.
“Congratulations for a job well done.”
Phil Lewis spoke on behalf of Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
“This day has been a long time coming and I congratulate the entire community for making it a reality.”
Lewis also pulled his 4th grade tour guide, Emma, from the bleachers and asked her to lead everyone in a loud, “Let’s Go, Bulldogs” chant.
Sen. Joe Manchin said he felt a wave of emotions and memories from being at the previous school while everyone was hoping the Upper Big Branch miners would return safely.
“Our lives and communities are changed forever, but it reinforced my belief in the strength of human beings, especially West Virginians.”
He quoted Benjamin Franklin, “Investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
He asked that all the students realize how lucky they are to be able to attend a state-of-the-art school.
“This school has one of the best designs in the country today.”
Manchin said the school does provide excellent safety features, starting from the front doors, but he promised he will do everything he can to prevent future violence.
“We have a responsibility to change that culture. It’s been glorified.”
He said he believes “preventative resource officers” will be placed at every school in the future.
“It just seems to be the most logical thing to do.”
Former superintendent of Raleigh County Schools Charlotte Hutchens said the leaders of the project laughed together, cried together and didn’t always see eye to eye, but the dedication ceremony was a bittersweet moment for her.
“Everyone always had the students’ best interests at heart.”
She said she loves the entrance and the security features at the school, but her favorite part is the gym, which shows great Bulldog pride.
While many involved in the project say the opening of the school is the completion of a five-year journey, the history behind the land on which the school now sits is much richer.
Dave Cantley traveled from Florida to share the history of the land.
“My great-great-grandfather, Alexander Cantley, was given this land by the U.S. government for his services in the War of 1812.”
Alexander, or “Eleck,” built his cabin near the creek that ran out of the mountains, which now runs underground in a huge culvert.
He passed the farm to his son, James Alexander, who was wounded while fighting for his country in the Civil War at the Battle of Cross Keys, Va. He died while traveling with his brother-in-law, Jim Clay, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
While James Alexander was at war, his wife, Rebecca Jane Clay, operated the farm along with her kids. Dave said the soldiers would often “steal anything not nailed down.”
An officer in charge asked Rebecca where her husband was one day, and when she told him, he asked if she would cook a meal for him and his men, he would see to it that nothing was touched on the farm.
While she was cooking, one of the officers looked at Dave’s grandfather, James Adam Cantley, while he was laying in his cradle. The officer asked Rebecca what his name was, and she replied, “James.” The officer asked what his middle name was and she said James has no middle name.
“Give him my name, Adam,” he said.
“That’s how my grandpa became James Adam,” Dave said. “My dad always said, ‘If you wanted to make Pa mad, all you had to do was call him Adam.’ He would let you know that he didn’t appreciate ‘being named after no rebel Democrat.’”
Dave’s grandpa James Adam could not attend school as a young boy. He had to stay home and learn to farm from his grandfather, Alexander.
At his death, he had expanded his 60 acres to over 300 acres. He grew every fruit and vegetable that would grow in this area. His farm had cattle, sheep, chickens and horses. He built a grist mill down by the river where a large wheel was driven by water to turn the mill stones that ground corn into cornmeal.
That mill stone now sits outside Marsh Fork Elementary and it was donated by Dave’s brother, Ronald B. Cantley Sr., a former superintendent of Raleigh County Schools.
“Most people in the 1800s heated their homes and cooked with wood fires, but my grandpa discovered a seam of coal near the top of the mountain behind this school.”
After the crops were gathered, he and his sons would dig enough coal from the mine to last all winter long. He also had an ice house near the river, as there were no freezers or electricity back then.
“My grandpa did not go to school, so he could not read or write. However, this did not stop him from being a strong supporter of education. He saw to it that all children received the education that was available to them at the time.”
He was elected chairman of the Marsh Fork School District for 12 years.
“My dad said when you saw Pa wearing his good hat and his little black mare hitched to the buggy you knew he was on school board business.”
Dave worked 37 years in public education, three years at Marsh Fork High School and 34 years in Palm Beach County, Fla.
“I learned that you don’t have to know how to read and write to be a school board member,” Dave joked.
After his grandpa’s death, the farm was passed to his youngest son, Ovet, and from Ovet to Dave’s cousin, Barry.
Barry sold the farm to the school board so Marsh Fork Elementary could be built.
“Grandpa Jim would be happy to know that his farm has become the site of a school.”
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