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Staley to speak to seniors
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SUNRISE SUMMIT — It’s been an unforgettable senior year for the Hampshire High School Class of 2021, and the keynote speech by Hampshire native and WVU football standout Evan Staley at graduation will undoubtedly cap it off.

HHS principal Mike Dufrene said he put some serious thought into who he wanted to address the graduating class at the upcoming ceremony scheduled for Friday evening.

“You should always have a purpose for a keynote speaker,” he explained. “If you think about what our seniors have been through this year, and what (Staley) has been through, overcoming adversity, working hard and not giving up, I think his message will be powerful.”

Staley, a 2016 HHS graduate, said he was a little surprised when Dufrene asked him to speak at commencement.

“I was kind of caught off guard, but excited to go back to the school and speak,” Staley recalled. “(Dufrene) wanted somebody who would connect with the students, and, being in college, maybe I’d resonate more than someone much older than them.”

Staley, who graduated with a bachelors degree in exercise physiology at WVU, is currently working on his Masters of safety management. He has also made headlines as a kicker for the Mountaineer gridders, and he’s had a tough year, same as the 2021 HHS graduating class. He sustained a serious knee injury during this year’s football season, and coming back from that has given him a crash course on dealing with obstacles and unplanned complications.

Not to mention, Staley is still a student. With the Covid changing the landscape of education, he’s had to navigate the uncharted waters of college courses during the pandemic. Many of the experiences the HHS Class of 2021 has had, Staley has had, too.

He said he thinks those shared experiences will make his message to seniors all the more poignant on Friday night out on Rannells Field.

“This past year, with the whole Covid thing, and a pretty significant knee injury halfway through my season, it’s been trying times for everyone,” Staley admitted. “Just tying that all in, with the fact that I’m young and can bring it to a younger level.”

Staley said he isn’t nervous either, because after about 4 years of jumping between elementary schools in the county to speak to younger students, he feels prepared to share his story with the graduates now. The 23-year-old said he’s hopeful and ready to impart a little bit of wisdom on with the cap-and-gown-clad grads at Friday’s ceremony.

“Having someone younger, on their level, might make it mean more,” he said. “Hopefully, I can connect and make an impact.”

The graduation ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday evening on Rannells Field, with a 10 a.m. Saturday rain date.

Solar farm to catch rays here
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Construction scheduled to start next year

Planning began back in 2018, and the necessary application to Potomac Edison to use energy from the farm’s array of solar panels to power the grid is now in the 3rd and final stage of approval, said Anna Gerrits, a senior manager with Galehead Development, the Boston-based firm specializing in renewable energy projects that is responsible for the project.

Gerrits and an associate, Nick Gates, made their presentation in a conference call during the meeting.

Galehead had first approached the Development Authority with plans for the project in 2018, but plans have been slowed due to Covid-19 issues during the past year and a half, Gerrits said.

The company expects to begin applying for the necessary permits from the state Public Service Commission next month.

Dubbed the “Capon Bridge Solar Project” by Galehead, the solar farm will be an array of solar panels stationed on 80 acres of privately owned land. Gerrits said the company plans to invest $15 million to $20 million in the project, and construction will take 18 months to 2 years.

When board Chair Greg Bohrer asked about experiences with other solar projects in West Virginia, Gates mentioned plans to build a large solar farm in Jefferson County, along with Berkeley County’s Bedington Energy Project, turning the former Dupont Potomac River Works facility in Bedington into a $100 million solar electricity production facility.

Neither is a Galehead Development project, but Gates reported that Galehead has been responsible for 8 gigawatts of green power projects across the country,

Asked about the number of jobs the solar farm would create, Gates conceded there would not be many jobs created in the long run. However, there would be a greater impact during the construction period, when numerous workers would be needed, including some skilled workers like electricians.

Executive Director Eileen Johnson pointed out that while green energy projects like the solar farm may not have a direct effect on job creation and the economy, they tend to bring a lot of new projects along with them. Some projects are required to locate in areas with green energy.

Beyond that, the benefit to the county could be largely in the project’s contribution to the tax base. The land on which the solar farm is located will remain the property of the original owner, though Galehead will reimburse his property taxes.

The equipment making the solar array is another matter — it would be taxable, Gates said, though he was still familiarizing himself with the state tax code and could not estimate how much the county would be able to collect.

Gerrits acknowledged that when they first approached the Development Authority back in 2018, questions had been asked about the project’s longevity and about what would happen to the equipment when the project winds down.

She said they expect the solar farm to last 30 to 40 years, and decommissioning is part of the agreement Galehead has made with the property owner. There are recycling plans for all the project’s equipment.

Gates also expressed interest in hearing about community values, and how the developers could make an impact on the broader community.

Johnson said final approval of such development projects must come from the County Commissioners, none of whom were present last week.

Teen siblings want to bring new life to French’s Mill
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The business that will occupy the mill belongs to her 2 children, Victoria and J.D., says Carole Croucher, who was working in the former garden shop across Fairgrounds Road last Friday. She explained her presence at the mill by saying: “I’m a volunteer.”

Young entrepreneurs Victoria and J. D. Croucher envision an art gallery on the 1st floor of the old mill, with the 2nd floor entirely given over to a big train table featuring HO scale model trains.

The art gallery may include some of their own work. Their mother Carole points out the 2 have won national awards for their photography in a contest sponsored by the New Jersey Horticultural Society.

There will be some merchandise for sale on the floor with the model trains, but viewing the trains will be free — just an encouragement to draw people into the building.

Victoria and J.D. designed their business plan first, for a company titled RDSWV, LLC, long before they chose the mill as their location. RDSWV was incorporated last August.

Once this was done, they needed a place to implement their plans. They looked at house after house after house, said Carole, but none of them were suitable. Everything was in the wrong location, or had a layout that just wouldn’t work.

Then they spotted a “for sale” sign on French’s Mill. It was just what they were looking for.

The current mill was built for the Augusta Milling Company in 1911, replacing a mill on the site that was destroyed by fire. According to nomination papers submitted to the National Historic Register, the Augusta Milling Company was created by local townspeople and farmers who issued stock to raise the money needed to replace the mill they had lost.

Most old grain mills were powered by water, and the nomination papers report that old maps show a creek ran north of the site at one time.

However, French’s Mill was originally powered by a steam boiler heated with wood, and then by an automobile battery. It was converted to electricity in 1949, the year before the current gray asphalt siding was installed on the building.

The nomination papers note that along with providing insulation, the siding would aid in fire prevention, always a concern in grain mills.

French’s Mill stopped operating in 2000, but the machinery that powers it is still operational — turn the power on, and the whole building shakes.

Carole says they have no plan to use the mill to grind grain again.

Victoria and J.D. chose RDSWV as a name for their new business because it is an acronym for Recycle, Discover, Support West Virginia. The teens’ business plan includes a little of each.

They will put out recycling bins for newspapers, cardboard and shopping bags, planning to reuse them to wrap and package merchandise.

Their “discover” activities will promote the Department of Environmental Protection’s youth program, their mother Carole says. A handout promises information on subjects from art to history to science — “and much more,” including monthly contests for children.

The project will require “support” from the community in the form of donations of “2nd chance” for the thrift store — unwanted items of all kinds, including produce from apples to zucchini.

The mill was purchased and the enterprise supported by their father Shaun, a long-distance truck driver working for an Iowa-based company. He is on the road 8-10 days at a time, driving out to the state of Washington or down to Texas.

Victoria and J.D. are still in school, being home-schooled by their mother. Victoria is old enough to have a new driver’s license, and was out running errands last Friday.

J.D. is a year younger, and had taken a break from staining floors to try to get a business account set up with the FNB Bank — “not as easy as we thought,” said Carole, who was taking a break with her friend Solveig Gruver in the future thrift shop.

They hope people will turn out to support them, donating and buying from the thrift store to help get their plans off the ground. Right now, any money goes back into stain and paint.

The old mill still needs a lot of work, and part of the surrounding area is fenced off with yellow tape. They put up the tape to protect themselves after being warned that they are liable if siding falls off the old mill and causes harm to anything or anyone passing by.

Everyone is hard at work, trying to get the enterprise ready to open. Once the thrift shop opens, they will make outside yard and flea market space available to others as well.

The smaller building across Fairgrounds Road gives them a place for the thrift shop that will help pay for repairs and renovations.

Carole says the building has gone through a lot of changes in the years since the mill was operational.

When the mill was open, it was used for mechanical work, Carole says. Then it was used for poultry, housing 500-1,000 turkey chicks. It has been used for storage, and as a garage.

As for the mill, Carole points out so many people have thought of buying it and finding a new use for it — for a gym, a restaurant, and all sorts of other ideas. Local people seem happy to see work being done to preserve the building and make some use of it.

The Crouchers hope to give French’s Mill new life, and to open to the public by the end of this month. They will record the progress they are making with restoration on their new website, www.frenchsmll.com.

Slow crime lab stalls murder case
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ROMNEY — The trial of Austin Holmes-Evans, accused of murdering his cousin Johnny Adams last summer, has hit a speed bump.

At a pretrial hearing last week Judge Charles Carl moved the 2nd pre-trial hearing from next week to July 31.

The primary reason, the prosecution and defense attorney agreed, is waiting for evidence to be processed at the state crime lab.

It’s an issue that has slowed down prosecutions across the state for years. The trial of David Corey for the January 2012 murder of his brother Danny in Romney was delayed until April 2013. Michael O’Hara was killed in Hampshire County in early October 2013, but his estranged wife, Mandy, was not tried until August 2015.

Other than the physical evidence, the discovery process is running smoothly, the attorneys told Judge Carl.

Holmes-Evans, then 16, has pled not guilty to criminal charges of 1st-degree murder, kidnaping, use of a firearm in a felony, concealing human remains and burglary in connection with last July’s death of his 14-year-old cousin.

Adams was staying with the Holmes-Evans family in Hanging Rock Subdivision after his foster father sent him to Hampshire County from Connecticut shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Johnny disappeared July 11 and his body was found in a shallow grave in the subdivision a week later.

At the time Holmes-Evans was charged with burglary as a juvenile. He was bound over to the circuit court to be tried as an adult this spring.

Wilkins to replace Shoemaker at County Health Dept.
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After 6 years and 1 pandemic, Stephanie Shoemaker is stepping down as Hampshire County’s health director to pursue her dream job, opening the door for Lead Nurse Tamitha Wilkins to replace her here.

“Nursing home administration is what I went to school for,” Shoemaker explained Monday.

She leaves her position with the Hampshire County Health Department at the end of this week to take over as administrator of Dawnview Center in Fort Ashby next month.

“It’s been in the plan all along,” Shoemaker said, “but there hadn’t been any positions here locally.”

Shoemaker took on her Health Department role in 2015 — a role that exploded into critical importance 14 months ago when the Covid-19 pandemic made its way here.

It was a situation Shoemaker said her department was ready for — as much as anyone could be — because of the planning and networking with other local agencies that began a couple of years earlier.

That’s perhaps the biggest lesson from her that she carries forward with her career change.

“I learned a lot about community and working with partners to get things accomplished,” Shoemaker said. “Without doing it together we can accomplish nothing.”

Those relationships, Wilkins said Monday, will be vital going forward.

“I’ll be trying to get new relations going and keep the ones we already have,” she said.

Wilkins will be a busy woman, taking on the role of administrator while still handling duties as lead nurse until that position is filled.

In addition, she and the Health Board will be looking for a new health director. Dr. Thomas Daugherty has given notice that he’s ready to retire. Wilkins said he could stay until the position is filled, hopefully before year’s end.

Mary Sas of Hampshire Memorial Hospital chairs the Health Board. She said Shoemaker goes with the board’s best wishes and Wilkins takes over with their full backing.

“Stephanie and Tamitha have just been the A Team,” Sas said.

They worked tirelessly — as did so many healthcare professionals — through the pandemic.

“It’s 24/7. It really is,” Shoemaker said in January. “It’s the same way for the staff — daylight to sunset. People have your home phone number and call you in the evening.”

Sas had praise for Daugherty too. The retired orthopedic surgeon had worked at HMH’s Rural Health Clinic when he was appointed health director in late 2014.

“He’s been so involved,” she said. “So many times the medical director just signs papers.”

Wilkins is on her 2nd stint with the Health Department. She began with the agency in 2001, spending 4 years with the Right from the Start program. Wilkins became a school nurse in 2005, but returned to the Health Department in 2012.

Shoemaker had praise for her colleague and successor.

“She is so knowledgeable and efficient,” Shoemaker said. “I have no worries the work is going to get done.

“Tamitha has ties to this community. This is her life; this is her home so she’s going to put 100 percent of herself into this job and grow the work we do in the community.”

Wilkins summed it up this way:

 “It’s nice to be able to do something for your home community you grew up in.”