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Selected news items from the Wednesday, May 20 Exponent and Telegram

Weston cemetery settles with state on grave markers

by Troy Graham


The former owner of Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens has agreed to take control of the Weston cemetery and pay money into a trust fund to settle a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General's office.

Lawyers for the state alleged James Conant, who bought the cemetery March 26, 1996 from Mary Walker, was pocketing money from the cemetery by selling cemetery markers and then not ordering or installing them.

Cemeteries are also required by state law to put 40 percent of the money from customers who buy grave sites and markers before their deaths into a trust fund. The state Tax Department determined that Conant neglected to put nearly $90,000 into a trust fund, said Deputy Attorney General Jill Miles. The $90,000 is only 40 percent of the more than $200,000 that is unaccounted for, she said.

The Attorney General's office obtained an injunction in February from Lewis County Circuit Judge Thomas Keadle to freeze the cemetery's bank accounts and stop Forest Lawn from selling "pre-need" lots or markers to living customers.

Under the agreement signed Friday by Judge Beadle, the cemetery's bank accounts were freed and Forest Lawn can begin selling pre-need markers and lots again, Miles said. Walker agreed to take control of Forest Lawn and run the cemetery with Norma Gains, who bought the cemetery from Connate in January.

Walker agreed to put $500 a month into a trust account and put $200 into the account for every burial, Miles said.

"I think she (Walker) grew up in Weston and she felt responsible," Miles said. "I have heard nothing but good things about her."

Walker did not return a message left for her at Forest Lawn.

The Attorney General's office is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Connate, seeking further restitution.

Miles said Conant sold the cemetery to Gaines for a nominal fee of $10 after the Attorney General's office began looking into Forest Lawn. The sale was completed in January, and the Attorney General's office sought the injunction on February 4.

"We thought Conant was taking people's money. He basically gave the cemetery away to Norma Gaines," Miles said. "He knew there was a lot of liabilities, and she wasn't equipped or prepared to deal with them."

Conant's attorney, Jim Pool, said Conant sold the cemetery because it was losing money.

"He was taking money out of his pocket, and he said enough is enough,"

Pool has filed a suit against Walker and Gaines, saying they are responsible for the cemetery's troubles. He said Walker sold his client a "pig in a poke" and Gaines agreed to take on all of the cemetery's liabilities when she bought it.

"They've apparently made their peace with Mary Walker but we haven't," he said.

Pool also questioned how the Attorney General's office could strike a deal with Walker, when Gaines owned the cemetery.

Miles admitted that the actual ownership of the cemetery will be a point of contention in future hearings, but she said her office will argue that Walker legally owns Forest Lawn.

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Fidler files for recount in tight Senate race

by Troy Graham


Joe Fidler's fortunes took another turn for the worse Tuesday, but the Republican candidate for state Senate isn't ready to give up.

Fidler, who was declared the winner of the primary race last week by a mere three votes, only to learn that he was mistakenly given an extra 10 votes in Braxton County, came out on the losing end of the canvasses in the 12th Senate District.

The final count has Fidler down 12 votes to Bridgeport businessman Dave Hinkle. The former Vietnam fighter pilot lost the most ground in Harrison County, where Hinkle received 40 votes to Fidler's 27 votes.

A canvass counts challenged ballots, which are cast by people voting at the wrong precinct. The ballots are sealed and then reviewed by county commissioners before being included in the election results.

Fidler filed Tuesday for a recount in three of the four counties in the district -- Lewis, Gilmer and Braxton counties. He said he plans to file for a recount in Harrison County today.

Fidler must post a $300 bond in each of the counties to pay for the recount.

"I'm optimistic. If I wasn't optimistic, I wouldn't ask for the recount," he said. "It's money you're spending and you may not get a return."

But, the votes may not have to be recounted in all four counties. Fidler can stop the recount if he were to regain the lead after the votes in any county are counted, leaving Hinkle to demand and pay to continue the process.

Fidler said he will probably ask that the votes be recounted in Braxton County first, where he was mistakenly given an extra 10 votes. When the mistake was discovered the day after the election, Fidler went from three votes ahead of Hinkle to seven votes behind.

Then, during the canvass, another mistake was discovered in Braxton County, giving Fidler back six votes that were not correctly counted.

Fidler said the election has been fun, but "we're all ready to get this over with."

Hinkle was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

The winner of the race will face former Senator Joe Minard in the November general election.

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Governor lauds school-to-work

by Gail Marsh


In 1997, the state of West Virginia led the nation with the number of new jobs created for its population size, about 9,600.

In 1998, companies are creating new jobs at the rate of about 1,000 per month.

When Governor Cecil Underwood first served as head of the state more than 40 years ago, he found it was just the opposite.

"Businesses were reluctant to locate here because they felt our workforce was unstable and prone to strikes. Now the number one reason that businesses come to West Virginia is the quality of our dedicated workforce," he said.

Gov. Underwood was the keynote speaker Tuesday evening at the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce Partners in Education Recognition Dinner. More than 100 businesses have formed 150 partnerships with county schools in order to offer students an up-close look at the world of work.

He spoke to the business and education leaders about the importance of ties between government, businesses and education to ensure that tomorrow's workforce is properly trained and educated to meet the demands of a high-tech market.

He encouraged local businesses to create opportunities for students to get real life work experiences, and to let local schools know of the kinds of skills that employees will need.

The governor also took time to dispel what he said are some misunderstandings about the School-to-Work initiative contained in Senate Bill 300. Because of the bill, nearly 1,200 Harrison County students will be required to get some type of work-based experience beginning in the fall of 1999.

"It is not a program that seeks to narrow the fields of study available for students, or limits their potential or confines them to a vocational track," he said.

The governor explained that School-to-Work is designed to help students learn about the world of work and about all of the career opportunities available to them, while teaching them skills that can be applied to any career choice.

"The best jobs of the future will require a well-educated work force, and School-to-Work will help us provide the foundation for that education," he said.

The recognition dinner is an annual event sponsored jointly by the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce and CVI Cablevision Industries to honor those businesses who have volunteered to work with individual schools. The project was begun in Harrison County in 1984, and every school had at least one partner by 1989.

According to Lenny Hannigan, coordinator of the county's Partners in Education Program, the program has been so successful that they no longer have to recruit.

"This partners relationship benefits not only the schools but the businesses as well. We now have people calling and asking us how to become a partner," he said.

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Area farmers welcome recent hot, dry spell

by Joedy McCreary


LIGHTBURN -- B.L. Wolfe's father always warned him that weather swung from one extreme to the other.

Good one week. Bad the next.

And after a wet, early-May week during which heavy rains washed out farmers' planting plans, the recent 80-degree temperatures have Wolfe, a corn farmer, smiling from ear to ear.

"Planting is going real well," Wolfe said. "This is nice weather. Couldn't be beat."

For Wolfe, tending to his 10-acre cornfield in Lewis County has been more productive in the last seven days. Unseasonably high temperatures dried out topsoils and made them "planter-friendly" again.

Farmers had just 1.4 suitable days for fieldwork during the week of May 4-10, according to the West Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service. But lofty temperatures spanning the past two weeks gave plowmen a five-day window to tend to their fields.

"Most farmers are glad to see it dry up so they could finish getting their plowing done and seeding," said Clint Hickman, West Virginia University's extension agent in Harrison County. "The week before last, it was kind of hard to get into the fields. But (this week) we were able to get a lot of the planting and plowing done."

Without soggy soil to battle, Wolfe spent Tuesday "disking" his sun-drenched, 10-acre plot. And if all goes well, Wolfe expects his corn seeds to be in the ground by sundown Thursday.

"I'm cutting this ground up," Wolfe said. "Then, I'll scatter fertilizer on it and spray (the field) == it's no-kill corn -- to keep the weeds down. Then, I'll fertilize it. That's it until the fall, when we chop it."

The recent high, dry temperatures even enabled Wolfe and other farmers to begin cutting hay, a task usually reserved for early June, said Bruce Lord, a WVU extension agent in Lewis County.

But the hay crop -- and, for that matter, all others -- could suffer if the heat isn't complemented by an occasional shower, Lord said.

"The heat isn't a problem (now), because the period without rain enables the farmer to plant," Lord said.

"If it continues to be hot and dry for a period of time, the grass is going to slow down its growth and water supplies for cattle will decrease," Lord said.

"We're not anywhere near that yet," Lord said, "but by the end of the week it would be nice to have rain."

Hay crops, such as alfalfa, tend to grow better in dry weather than corn, Lord said. But should a severe drought settle in, the farmers' options are quite limited.

"With hay and corn, there's not a lot you can do because not a lot of people are set up for irrigation in this area,' Lord said. "You just have to ride it out. The same goes for cattle. You have to make sure they have plenty of fresh water to drink. (With increased temperatures) shade may be a factor. But in this kind of weather, shade isn't a factor."

Hickman said this summer could wind up being more productive than 1997, when a wet growing season led to higher chance for disease.

"Growing wasn't too bad last year, but we had problems," Hickman said. "We had more disease than normal. If it's dry (this year), it may not be as bad."

Wolfe remains optimistic that his corn crop will flourish in just the right mix of sun, surf and soil.

"I don't look for too much more bad weather," Wolfe said. "It was wet for a while, and then it went too dry. I hope it doesn't stay dry for too long, though."

Sen. Randolph laid to rest in Salem

by Alecia Sirk


Each night before he laid down to sleep, former U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph would sing every Mountaineer's hymn, "The West Virginia Hills." That was his way of carrying his home state with him no matter how far he roamed.

Tuesday, on the slope of one of those green hills Randolph learned to love as a boy growing up in Salem, the Democrat's ashes were buried in his family plot at the Seventh Day Baptist Church Cemetery.

He died Friday, May 8, in St. Louis. He was 96.

Randolph, a New Dealer who authored the constitutional amendment that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, served four full terms in the Senate from 1958-85 and seven terms in the House of Representatives from 1933-47.

About 50 people attended the family-and-friends-only service Tuesday afternoon, including Gov. Cecil Underwood, who served with Randolph on the Salem College Board of Directors and unsuccessfully ran against him in a Senate race.

No one wept openly at the somber service led by Seventh Day Baptist Church Pastor Dale Thorngate. Mourners simply blotted tears away as the 23rd Psalm was read.

Salem-Teikyo University President Dr. Ronald Ohl was asked to speak on behalf of Randolph's alma mater. S-TU will hold a public memorial service for Randolph on June 12.

"We hope the people of West Virginia are proud of him," said Randolph's son, Jennings "Jay" Randolph, after the service. "His family is very proud of him."

Jay, the sports announcer for the Florida Marlins, said his father was a wonderful family man. It was during Randolph's 1958 senatorial campaign that Jay came back to Salem with his father and became interested in sports broadcasting.

"He loved this state with a true fervor," Jay said. "It was a joy for him to serve this state at the national level. To use a sports term, he was an 'impact player.' He felt he could make a bigger impact on the state at a national level."

Gov. Underwood spoke at the gravesite. He abandoned the reverberations of his political voice and talked in such hushed tones that only the family seated nearby could hear him.

The governor said after the service that his political contemporary had been a true public servant.

The Rev. Robert Florian, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Salem-Teikyo University, is documenting that legacy of service as Randolph's official biographer.

Randolph left his personal papers to the college. Florian has been tracing the senator's history in government for the past six years and will eventually put his work into a book.

According to Florian, Randolph had strong ties to Salem all his life. While a young man, he held all sorts of part-time jobs in Salem. The future political leader worked at a grocery store and a filling station, among other odd jobs.

Randolph graduated from Salem College in 1924 and worked as "sporting editor" for the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram. During the election of 1924, he combined his two interests in a column for the paper.

"There are two great games being played in West Virginia just now. One is politics; the other is football. Both games are exceedingly popular with the general public and we are inclined to believe that politics is the harder game of the two," he once wrote.

With his years in office and the many bills that bear his name, Randolph proved he could be successful at that game of politics.

Jay said that one of his father's greatest accomplishments -- and biggest disappointments -- was the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave 18-year-olds the vote.

"He was always disappointed that more young people don't go to the polls," Jay said of his father's 10-year struggle to pass the amendment. ÒI hope they will teach in high schools and colleges how important it is to vote. I know Dad would want that."

Through history books and tales among politicians, Randolph's works will continue, the family believes. But as of Tuesday, the world-traveler and international politician came home to Salem for good.

"He wouldn't have wanted it any other way," said the Rev. Thorngate after Tuesday's service. "I think even his ashes would not have stayed any other place if it hadn't been West Virginia."

Thorngate, Randolph's pastor, said the senator often cajoled him into singing a favorite tune during visits, and it was the one song shared a cappella by the group at the gravesite: "Whether near or far I roam, I still think of happy home and my friends among the West Virginia hills."

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