I try each week to write something of interest that I hope readers of this column can relate to. Whether it’s history- or sports-related, I do strive to pen stories that appeal to my own interests, knowing, of course, that not everybody has the same interests as myself.
This week, following a much-needed stint at Virginia Beach, I feel like sharing some thoughts from others who have contacted me in one way or another — via postal mail, email, or by telephone. In many of these contacts, I have never even met the other party. Here’s a few thoughts from others I would like to share with readers.
One person, a former Loganite I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, but who is a Facebook friend of mine, is Francis “Frank” Adams, who is always sending me tidbits of interesting information. A resident of Davidson, North Carolina, which is about 15 miles north of Charlotte, Frank graduated from Logan High School in 1956 and WVU in 1961. His father was part-owner of Crown Jewelers that used to be on Stratton Street in Logan until he sold his interest to the Lilly family. The structure is now vacant, but it once was a fixture in downtown Logan.
Frank, a retired physical therapist and a good friend of Les Lilly (Crown Jewelers), follows this weekly writing and often sends me comments and information of interest. A friend of several people with Logan connections, he knows the whereabouts of many former Loganites, including one of the best football players ever at Logan High — Alex Szuch. At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Szuch graduated from WVU in 1957 after playing quarterback on offense, safety on defense, and returning punts in a four-year career under the guidance of Coach Art “Pappy” Lewis, whose 1956 team defeated Texas 7-6 in Texas.
The 1954 WVU squad, when Szuch was a sophomore, was defeated 42-19 by Georgia Tech in the Cotton Bowl. What’s of special local interest about that game is that former Logan coach Jack Stone was one of the talented leaders of that Mountaineer team, which also included the likes of former NFL New York Giants great Sam Huff.
Stone, a Mount Hope (West Virginia) High School graduate, was one of the most highly recruited football players ever in the history of the state. So many top-notch schools wanted him that then-Gov. Okey Patterson reportedly persuaded Stone to enroll at WVU. Jack, who left us just about 15 months ago at the age of 88, played many roles for the Mountaineers as a running back, a defensive back, a punter, and a punt returner. He was an overall good person who never boasted of his accomplishments.
As assistant coach to Willie Akers, Stone, who was my physical education instructor at Logan High, coached his son Mike when the legendary Wildcats captured back-to-back state AAA basketball titles during the seasons of 1977 and ’78.
One other story of interest that Frank Adams has shared with me concerns his time as a student in Morgantown. Frank says one of his good friends at WVU, a great-grandson of Devil Anse Hatfield, who shall for now remain unnamed, received an overpayment back from the Internal Revenue Service one year while still a student at the school.
Adams said the individual and some of his fraternity brothers at WVU — seeing the enterprising possibility — headed over to Oakland, Maryland, where they could purchase miniature bottles of whisky, often referred to as “airplane whisky.” With the state of West Virginia not selling miniature bottles of liquor at the time, the guys headed back to Morgantown with plenty of the cheap liquor.
Morgantown was known for its fraternal “party animals” at the time and so the frat brothers waited until about 11 p.m. one weekend night before they started “hitting” the various frat houses, which customarily were usually running out of booze at that time of the evening.
Frank says that at two dollars apiece, the liquor was selling like hotcakes. Perhaps getting a little greedy, the guys enlisted a young girl from the Man area of Logan County to sell some of the bottles to the female frat house girls, some of whom also fit into the “party animals” category. However, it was at Terrace Hall, one of the women’s dormitories on campus, that the girl got busted, I suppose by the campus police.
The girl, Frank said, “turned state’s evidence” and that ended the fraternal business venture.
The “girl” from Man, you ask? Well, her name at the time was Vonnie (not Bonnie) Grubb, a sister to former Logan County Circuit Court Judge J. Ned Grubb. Vonnie (Grubb) McClellan, the notorious former campus “bootlegger,” is currently a resident of Atlanta, Georgia.
Frank, who still manages the Peck estate (as in Peck’s Mill) has some additional stories I will relay later, including the history surrounding the Pecks Mill community. For now, though, I like what he recalled about what former West Virginia Gov. Wally Barron had to say when he was asked about bonus checks coal miners at the time were going to receive.
“Some will spend it on whiskey, some will spend it on women, and I guess, the rest will just waste it,” said the governor.
Interesting sidebar to this quote is that Barron, who was governor from 1961 thru 1965, was in 1968 acquitted of federal charges concerning alleged money kickbacks and rigged state contract schemes in which he and several of his associates were involved.
Later, it was realized that Barron and his wife, Opal, had bribed the jury foreman. He was then indicted and served four years of a 20-year sentence.
And now, from a couple of interested Man High School athletic fans, comes the question of why former Man High School athletic standout Ralph Bowen has never been inducted into the Man High School athletic Hall of Fame.
I was unaware that Bowen was not already a member of that group, as his talents in basketball, football and baseball were exceptional. I covered Man High athletics at various times when Ralph was a student there, and what I remember distinctly is that he and a fellow teammate, Harold Peoples, led the Hillbillies basketball squad when Man High was a Class AAA team.
I honestly feel like the team Peoples and Bowen were on would have likely been playing for a championship — against former AA powerhouse Northfork — had the Hillbillies not had to deal with Logan. Man High almost beat Logan twice one particular season, and perhaps should have, when Peoples and Bowen were teammates.
While Peoples has to be considered one of the best athletic talents ever at the school and is rightfully a member of the Hall of Fame at his former school, old newspaper clippings confirm that Bowen was a key to the Hillbillies’ athletic successes, even in football, where he was a pass catcher and a tough guy for opponents to bring down.
I recall Bowen hitting long-range bombs before the three-point shot was ever a part of high school basketball. Those “bombs” helped keep the pressure off Peoples, who excelled around the basket.
Last I heard, Bowen was a resident of Proctor Bottom on Buffalo Creek. Maybe it’s time he be honored for his athletic contributions to his alma mater.
And finally, for those readers who do follow this column, I know you can confirm that I was the first in 2020 to predict in writing that the Man Hillbillies would be state basketball champions in 2021.
For the record, though, my predictions are not always on the money.
Just ask Shania O’Briant Thompson. I was quick to inform her some weeks ago that the infant she was then carrying around inside her body would be born a male. Well, the assistant prosecuting attorney and daughter of Chief Judge Eric O’Briant recently gave birth to a healthy 10-poundish daughter.
I take solace in the thought that I just barely missed that prophecy.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.