LEWISBURG — Announced as a ribbon-cutting for the Clingman Center for Community Engagement, the Tuesday evening ceremony at Montwell Commons expanded on that gesture, transforming into a celebration of the life of the woman for whom the facility is named.

Honored by family, friends and the medical community, the generous spirit of the late Gwen Clingman was invoked repeatedly during the ceremony.

The longtime owner of Clingman’s Market, Clingman oversaw the downtown grocery’s transformation into “Gwen’s Kitchen,” where she fed the community hearty, homemade lunches at bargain basement prices. Among her best customers were the students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, many of whom affectionately called her “Granny Gwen.”

Clingman’s connection to the medical school, which went far beyond feeding the masses (she and the school’s founder, Dr. Roland Sharp, were first cousins), led to WVSOM’s decision to name the outreach center it now leases from the Greenbrier Valley Restoration Project at the Montwell Commons development.

Speaker after speaker Tuesday revealed the reasons the facility’s name is so apt.

WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., said, “WVSOM’s mission is to first and foremost serve West Virginians. We’re about the community. We’re about improving the health of the community.”

He said the connection to Gwen Clingman is clear.

“It’s all about taking care of each other,” he said.

Nemitz pointed out a few of the many ways the Clingman Center will tie into that mission of care — through job training for people caught up in the opioid crisis and through nutrition classes for people suffering from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, for example.

“This is going to be a model for the state, an incubator for what we can do to improve the quality of life for us all,” he said.

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Two of Clingman’s three daughters and the youngest of her 11 grandchildren also addressed the large outdoor gathering.

Daughter Alice Hollingsworth, who still lives in Lewisburg, quoted her mother generously.

“There’s no use to pass this way if you don’t help people a little bit” was one Gwen-ism Hollingsworth cited. Another was, “A friendly face and a hot meal could make a difference.”

“Mother loved all people and served all people,” Hollingsworth noted. “She taught us to always give more than we take. She taught us to always make wise decisions. Her example has made an indelible impact on all of us.”

Hollingsworth’s daughter Heather Hollandsworth expressed appreciation for the work that will be done at the facility that bears Gwen Clingman’s name. Hollandsworth described her grandmother, who barely topped 5-feet tall, as a “heroic, tiny little woman” whose influence persists in the generations who have followed.

Sharon Shertzer, Clingman’s middle daughter, who lives in New Jersey, said she was certain her mother “is smiling in heaven today” to see all the good work being accomplished in her name.

“Let us rise and shine and give God the glory for having touched our lives and having blessed our lives with our mother, Gwen Clingman,” Shertzer said.

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Arriving at the event just as the other speeches concluded, Gov. Jim Justice said, “It’s amazing what the O-School’s doing.”

He reminisced about the uncertainty that surrounded WVSOM’s very existence during the first legislative session he observed first-hand as governor, in 2017. At that time, there was a movement afoot to privatize the medical school and perhaps move it out of Lewisburg.

“I thought this is going to be a terrible fight,” Justice said. But he added that he made no secret that if such a bill passed the Legislature and fell on his desk, “it’s going to be dead on arrival.” The issue never gained traction after that, he said.

“Look at what you’re doing today,” the governor told the crowd at Montwell Commons. “This school is so incredibly important to this community. This school is doing greatness beyond belief. You’re pumping doctor after doctor after doctor into the community.”

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The Clingman Center for Community Engagement is already being used for programs that include community workshops and trainings and will provide further options for community engagement and health activities, according to a WVSOM news release.

As its infrastructure develops, the site also will be used for workforce development programs and community-based health research. A commercial teaching kitchen has been constructed in the building to offer culinary training and outreach on healthy cooking.

The Clingman Center offers WVSOM students a place to engage with the community. Students have volunteered at farmers markets at the center and in its demonstration garden, which during the growing season offers classes led by a master gardener. Students also may take an elective course in culinary medicine that will be taught in part at the facility.

The Clingman Center is also available to the public through the WVSOM Foundation as a rental space for such events as meetings, weddings, receptions and private parties. Those interested in renting the facility may contact the foundation at 304-793-6852.

WVSOM’s Center of Rural and Community Health will manage the center’s programs in partnership with the nonprofit Greenbrier County Health Alliance.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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