By Tina Alvey
Incorporated 100 years ago, this western Greenbrier County town is celebrating its centennial in grand style.
A full weekend of family-friendly events began Thursday afternoon with inspirational songs, distinguished speakers and delicious birthday cake. An appreciative crowd numbering more than 150 included students from the new Rainelle Elementary School, state and local government officials and an array of residents, visitors and special guests.
“What a beautiful day,” exclaimed a beaming Mayor Andrea J. “Andy” Pendleton, addressing the audience seated before the Heritage Park bandstand. “What a proud past we share.”
The mayor noted, “We are... creating a new sense of pride in our town.”
Pendleton recognized several special guests, including seven former employees of the Meadow River Lumber Company, which, in its heyday, was the largest operation of its sort in the world.
Also among those recognized were Lola Rookstool, a Heartland of Rainelle resident who was one of the first women coal miners in the U.S., and Dr. David Gray, son of the first mayor of Rainelle.
Edward McCall, a Rainelle native who is now a freelance writer and secretary of the executive committee of the West Virginia Golf Association, spoke about his experiences growing up in the small town, touting lessons like tolerance and compassion he learned there.
McCall elicited knowing chuckles from the mostly-local audience as he listed many of Rainelle’s “characters,” past and present.
“Per capita, I think Rainelle has more characters than any other town in West Virginia — maybe in the whole United States,” he said.
Following McCall on stage, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant remarked, “This is what makes up West Virginia — when we listen to all of these small town stories.”
She added, “We honor our heritage. We honor who we are and what we came from.”
State Senator Ron Miller (D-Greenbrier) compared the ongoing challenge of continuing to improve the town that was founded by brothers John and Thomas Raine to one of his favorite tasks — plowing the fields of his farm.
“When I plow, I can only go forward,” Miller said. “I have made this commitment to plow this field.
“John and Thomas Raine knew they had to move forward. They had to carry on.”
Pendleton predicted great things will come to Rainelle, saying in comments printed in the event’s program, “With so many places now tormented by congestion and by threats to personal safety, Rainelle’s government and its people are dedicated to (this town) being a safe place to live at all of life’s stages — from childhood to advanced age — and a place to earn a living through honest work.”
Music for the opening ceremonies was provided by John Wyatt and the Appalachians, who performed the song “Sewell Mountain,” as well as assorted selections before the speakers were seated, and by Andre Williams, a gifted vocalist who graduated from Greenbrier West High School last year. Williams sang “How Great Thou Art” and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday.”
Centennial festivities will continue in Rainelle today, with the inauguration of the “Mayor’s Walk,” during which Pendleton will offer her unique perspective on the town’s history and many features. A series of one-hour walks through town, led by the mayor, will originate at Town Hall beginning at 10 a.m.
Other activities today include crafters demonstrating their talents and selling their wares at the Rainelle Medical Center, an open house at the Rainelle Public Library, a cake walk and a free concert by the Strum Sum Band this evening.
Saturday will start off with a parade at 10 a.m. and later will offer a variety of activities for children and sports events for all ages. The weekend celebration will conclude with a free concert by Steele Country Band from 6-10 p.m. at Town Hall/Heritage Park.