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Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999

Not much stress in tiny Berlin
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    BERLIN- Blame it on her roots. Liz Freda grew up in New York in what started as a rural area but soon became a metropolitan lifestyle. For a while it wasn't bad. Then she started thinking about her childhood and the memories and opportunities she wanted for her two children, now 13 and 11.
    She and her husband traveled several states to find the type of life her family has made in the Lewis County town of Berlin. They moved in a few years ago to a home on Laurel Lick Road without knowing anyone.
    The stay-at-home mom quickly became a welcomed member of the community. She serves as a 4-H leader for the Green and White Winners 4-H Club, an organization that spends much of its time making crafts and centerpieces for a nursing home in nearby Jane Lew. "God just put us here," Freda said.
    Freda joins a couple hundred other folks in the farming community who want to live away from the city rush. They choose the fresh air and the country roads instead of smog and potholes. They prefer to see a goat standing high on a hill beside a barn, instead of a barking dog lashing through a fence. And instead of the scent of hot asphalt, they like nature's potpourri the smell of cut grass or a hint of rain in the air.
    You won't find a post office or a restaurant, not even a gas pump within the limits of Berlin. There are no factories, no companies. The people come from all walks of life carpenters, welders, utility workers, teachers, FBI employees and homemakers to find a common thread in their community. They like the quiet life and the low crime rate. Mostly they like the escape from the city.
    Dovie King, another 4-H leader, has lived in Berlin for years. She works in home health care and at a craft shop in a nearby city. Although she enjoys working outside her home, her real desire is to be at home in Berlin in the outdoors.
She likes hiking, picnics and planting in her garden - all of which exist right outside her back door. "It's the freedom to come home and go to the garden," she said. "It's like a release of burning up your energy from the mental stress of your job."
Stress isn't something many people in this community tend to have. If they do, they find ways to bond together and overcome it.
    Bonding is part of what makes the community special. King said she knows everyone in town. And most folks like to come to monthly covered-dish dinners, she said. "It's a very friendly community. Everyone works together with no backstabbing," King said. She doesn't care if little industry exists in her hometown. She really doesn't want it there.
"In a 20-mile radius there are plenty of good jobs," she said.



Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999
Cardiac patients find love in unexpected places
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    After losing his wife of 47 years, Donald Leggett hadn't really thought about the possibility of new love.
Love found him anyway. Big time. The 71-year-old joined United Hospital Center's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in an effort to improve his health.
    He wasn't looking to solve his loneliness in the outpatient program. He just wanted to strengthen his heart.
Something unexpected would change his attitude. Peggy Hill, 72, entered his life. The two were introduced by a fellow patient in the rehabilitation program.
    At first they just talked. Then, talk became breakfast or lunch or dinner. Then it became breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Soon enough, the two began going to the program together. "After a couple of months, we decided we needed each other," Leggett said, spreading a smile across his face. "We decided that love could come around the bend again." The two wed on Dec. 24, 1998.
    "The strange thing is that neither one of us were looking for anyone," he said. "It kind of just fell at our feet." The Leggetts are not the only ones to find love and companionship at UHC's Cardiac Rehab Center, a monitored exercise program that meets three times a week. Patients say the program creates lasting friendships, strengthening their hearts physically and emotionally.
    Tom Elder, 73, and Nancy Vecchio, 59, also found that true love does come around more than once.
The two met in the program and began their relationship by a twist of fate. One day Tom Elder was looking for a date to go with him to a classical music concert. Elder's first date had called off.
    Elder, talking to Vecchio on the treadmill, asked if she would like to go. And, after she agreed, "It was all uphill from there," Vecchio said. Their relationship blossomed inside and outside the program. They went to concerts, plays and talked on the phone. They even endured the playful ribbing from their fellow friends in the program.
    "This class is bad about that," Elder said. "They'll rib you about everything." Ray Hurley, a fellow rehab patient, said the teasing was warranted. "You couldn't talk to them," he said. "They were just like robins in the tree." The two "robins" married in July 1998.
    Collectively, they now have five children and nine grandchildren. One more grandchild is on the way. The two are enjoying their new life, Vecchio-Elder said. "I think I've died and gone to heaven," she said, "because he's such a special person."
    And they are just thankful to make so many friends in the program. "The advantage to coming here is the fellowship," Elder said. "The fellowship is what keeps you coming back." Donald Leggett agrees. "While the exercise and fellowship are equally important to healing, the program adds something that doctors and exercise couldn't: someone to be with."



Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999
Old Man Winter is
banished in Helvetia
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    HELVETIA - Old Man Winter probably should have seen it coming. A pack of revelers donning papier-mache masks converged at the city's community hall Saturday night, then tossed Old Man Winter into a raging bonfire. The event was nothing new to participants of the annual Fasnacht celebration in Helvetia.
    Old Man Winter, merely a paper-stuffed dummy adorned in jeans, a hunting jacket and small tree branches, suffers the same fate every year in the Randolph County town. The event is a Swiss tradition that symbolizes the banishment of winter.
    "You see, we burn him tonight," said Eleanor Fahrner Mailloux, "and tomorrow the sun is going to shine." Call it outrageous. Call it silly. Whatever you call it, Fasnacht is a great way to celebrate cultural heritage, get together with friends and relatives and simply let loose, according to several participants. "They kind of wreck the place," said Louise Malcomb, a Helvetia resident and community hall director. "But that's what it's all about."
    Fasnacht is always held on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. In Helvetia, a town of about 25 people, the event combines the two Swiss traditions of burning Old Man Winter and a pre-Lenten, Mardi Gras-style costume ball.
The community's population is so small that the town decided to combine the two celebrations on one day, Mailloux said.
People come to the event by the dozens each year. Some participants this year came from as far as California, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. The popularity seems to be growing each year, Malcomb said.
    But about 35 years ago, the event's popularity had been diminishing, Mailloux said. Mailloux, proprietor of a popular Swiss eatery and Fasnacht gathering place called the Hutte Restaurant, said that some of the older residents in town started to lose the spirit.
    The traditions of the early Swiss and German immigrants who settled the land in 1869 had slowly faded with time, she said. One year Fasnacht was so small that only about 10 people came to Mailloux's house to celebrate it.
"It was a beginning," she said. "I had quite a time reviving it. But we revived it, and it took off."
Now, the event virtually keeps the small town booked up. Mailloux has no problem packing her 70-seat restaurant during Fasnacht. In fact, she had worried that she wasn't going to have enough bratwurst to feed everybody. That concern, however, was resolved shortly before Saturday.
    For $10 a person, patrons could eat as much bratwurst, onion pie, sauerkraut, potatoes, green beans, homemade bread, apple sauce and peach cobbler as they wanted. After the dinner, many participants cloaked themselves in colorful handmade outfits and masks. The masks can represent prominent events in time, which essentially means they can be scary or downright silly.
    Perhaps the most important aspect of the event is to carry the Swiss traditions and have fun while doing it, Mailloux said.
"It's just a night to let go. That's why I think it's so fun." Heidi Arnett, Maillioux's daughter, agrees. "It's a lot of fun. I guess that's why people come. It's just a blast."



Sunday, Feb. 14, 1999

Passage of smokeless tobacco tax questionable
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    It was an unexpected request from a governor who has not been known for being unpredictable or controversial.
Creating a new tax. The exact opposite of what Republicans are supposed to do. But that's precisely what Gov. Underwood proposed last month in his State of the State address.
    Underwood asked lawmakers to pass a 25 percent excise tax on smokeless tobacco, in the hopes of driving the cost of snuff and chew out of the price range of children. Although taxing and attacking tobacco have been popular political maneuvers in recent years, the passage of the governor's proposal is anything but certain.
    The governor and supporters of the tax say it is a public health issue. They point out that West Virginia has the highest rate of smokeless tobacco use in the nation. Only 7.4 percent of Americans use snuff or chew, while 17.4 percent of West Virginians use smokeless tobacco. They say children are being hooked on the products, while deaths attributed to tobacco use continues to climb.
    Opponents say it's a tax and a business issue. Neighboring states do not have a similar tax on smokeless tobacco, so a tax in West Virginia would kill state retailers in border counties. One lawmaker, Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, called it a "poor man's tax" because of its high usage among the working class.
    And Senate Republicans, reluctant to raise any taxes, initially backed away from the issue. Senate Democrats have said that they won't vote for a tax that isn't supported on the other side of the aisle. "I've had conversations with Senate Republicans and I will continue to have those conversations," Underwood said this week, after meeting with elementary school kids to discuss the dangers of tobacco use.
    Halfway through a legislative session, during which mountaintop removal and gambling were supposed to be some of the hottest topics, the governor's proposed tax on smokeless tobacco has stolen the show. The governor held two anti-tobacco rallies last week, during which he promoted his bill. Two delegates, including Judiciary Chairman Rick Staton, have made impassioned pleas for the tax on the floor of the House. And everyone seems to have an opinion.
    Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, spoke this week about a friend of his who died after a lifelong addiction to tobacco.
"The profanity of continuing to ignore the poison that our children put in their mouths cannot continue," he said. House Minority Leader Charles Trump, the lead House Republican, says he has supported the tax since day one. "In the final analysis this is a health issue," he said. "We tax baby formula. There is no justifiable public policy reason to tax baby formula and not smokeless tobacco."
    Trump, R-Morgan, chewed tobacco and rubbed snuff for 22 years before quitting two years ago. He points out that using smokeless tobacco is regrettably part of the state's culture. "Rubbing snuff was what everyone did," he said. "We played football and wrestled and that's what we did. I'm well aware of its powers." About half of his fellow House Republicans support the tax, he said.
    One local Republican, James Willison, whose district includes Doddridge County, said he is undecided on the issue even though he recognizes the public health aspect. "When they send us down here they don't expect us to raise taxes," he said.
Opponents point out that, although only seven states have no tax on smokeless tobacco, four of them border West Virginia. With 30 border counties, retailers and wholesalers would be crushed by the tax, said tobacco and wholesaler lobbyist John Hodges. "It's enough to make you want to go across the border," he said.
    Stores along the Kentucky and Virginia borders are already unable to compete because those states have low cigarette taxes, he said. Often people bring cigarettes over from those states and sell them to their friends and co-workers. Hodges estimates retailers and wholesalers lose $63 million in business that way every year. "We have hardly any business at all, like in the Huntington area," he said.
    Echoing Caputo's concern, Hodges also says it will punish many working class people who chew or rub snuff in coal mines or factories where they can't smoke. Trump, however, said it doesn't matter if you're working class or upper class, you're at the same risk for cancer. "I practice law for a living, and I spent far too much money on tobacco for 22 years," he said. I don't feel a bit bad about saving someone from cancer."


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