Oct. 3 gala to celebrate West Virginia’s coal mining people and communities

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 


CollageHUNTINGTON, W.Va. – On Thursday, Oct. 3, miners, industry leaders, community members and others will gather at Tamarack in Beckley for a gala reception, dinner and awards ceremony to celebrate the past, present and future of West Virginia’s coal mining enterprise.

According to organizers, the purpose of the annual “Miners’ Celebration” is to recognize all those who play a role in the state’s mining industry.

“The West Virginia mining industry is very important to us, for example, as a destination for jobs for many graduates from our safety technology program,” said Dr. Tony Szwilski, chairman of the event planning committee and director of Marshall University’s Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences. “The industry depends upon thousands of individuals in a number of different roles and every person—whether they work as a safety engineer, miner, environmental professional or equipment supplier—contributes to each ton of coal produced, as do countless community leaders, educators and mining families.

“The mining industry owes its success to every one of them. This event is intended to honor and recognize the contributions of everyone involved. Last year’s celebration was a rousing success and we look forward to this year’s program being even bigger and better.”

Szwilski said one of the highlights of the gala will be the “Because of You” awards presented to several individuals for their significant contributions to West Virginia’s coal-mining community. This year’s honorees include:

  • James H. “Buck” Harless of Gilbert, whose success in the coal and timber industries and commitment to the people of southern West Virginia have inspired him to become one of the state’s leading philanthropists (Community Investment Award);
  • Geneva Steele of Paynesville, who helped lead the effort to build the McDowell County Miners’ Memorial in Bradshaw and has worked with the local historical society to preserve the area’s coal mining heritage (Community Involvement Award);
  • James Dean of Morgantown, who heads West Virginia University’s mining and industrial extension program and served as acting director of the state’s Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training following the Sago and Aracoma mine disasters (Safety Professional Award);
  • Jennie Henthorn of St. Albans, who is the owner of Henthorn Environmental Services and a recognized authority on state and federal water quality standards and environmental permitting (Environmental Professional Award);
  • Roger Owensby of Bluefield, who is the director of the mining engineering technology program at Bluefield State College and a certified mine foreman-fireboss (Educator of the Year Award); and
  • Katharine Fredriksen of Pittsburgh, who is the senior vice president of environmental strategy and regulatory affairs for CONSOL Energy Inc. (Women in Mining Award).

Internationally recognized musician and songwriter John Ellison, who grew up in the mining community of Landgraff in McDowell County, will be on hand at the event to accept a special “Spirit of the Coalfields” award. A member of the 1960s group the Soul Brothers Six, Ellison is best known for writing the song “Some Kind of Wonderful”—one of the most-recorded songs in history. He is dedicating his award to the memory of his father, who worked in the mines in McDowell County.

“Rocket Boys” author Homer Hickam, the recipient of last year’s “Spirit of the Coalfields” award, will present a new award, the “Homer Hickam Collier Award,” to a working coal miner who epitomizes the spirit, dedication and skills of the mining profession. The recipient, Scott Lancianese of Mount Hope, is a third-generation West Virginia miner who has worked in the industry for 36 years, including the last 16 as a superintendent for Alpha Natural Resources.

Szwilski added that representatives of the Coal Heritage Highway Authority/National Coal Heritage Area also will be on hand to present the Nick Joe Rahall Award for Outstanding Achievements in Coal Heritage Preservation, the Coal Heritage Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Coal Heritage Marketing Award and the Coal Heritage Research and Documentation Award.

The free reception will begin at 5 p.m. in the Tamarack atrium. Entertainment will be provided by singer-songwriter Reagan Boggs, who wrote “Thank You – Miner’s Song” as a tribute to the men and women who work in the mines. A native of the mining community Pound, Va., Boggs is currently playing shows with Nashville-based group The Coal Men.

Dinner and the awards ceremony, which require a ticket, will begin at 6 p.m. in the ballroom. Tickets are $50/person. To purchase tickets or inquire about sponsorship opportunities, call 304-696-4029.

For more information about the Miners’ Celebration, visit www.marshall.edu/cegas/events/mcc.

The Miners’ Celebration is a cooperative project of the Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences at Marshall University; the National Coal Heritage Area; the United Mine Workers of America; the West Virginia Coal Association; Strategic Solutions LLC; and the West Virginia Division of Energy, Office of Coalfield Community Development.

Sponsors include Brickstreet Insurance, Marshall University, State Electric Supply Company and the West Virginia Division of Energy.


Contact:  Dennis Jarvis, Marshall University Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences, 304-696-3506; or Ginny Painter, Communications Director, Marshall University Research Corporation, 304.746.1964