By Adelyn Nottingham
Whitesville, W.Va. is a unique town steeped in coal heritage and history. After the tragic Upper Big Branch UBB mine disaster in 2010, the whole community was affected, but the community stood strong and united. It was an important time for community leaders to step forward to help the community heal. Sheila Combs was one of these leaders who fought for the wellbeing of her community.
Sheila Combs grew up 6 miles from Whitesville, W.Va. and has lived in the area her whole life. She attended Sherman High School and later continued her education by earning a degree in business management at West Virginia State College, now called West Virginia State University. Sheila met her husband at the local post office and they recently celebrated their 25 wedding anniversary.
In the aftermath of the UBB explosion Sheila founded a non-profit called the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group Inc. This group began working with the community to create a memorial in Whitesville that honored those who lost their lives. The Big Coal River community raised 700,000 dollars through donations by more than a 100 corporate partners. The Memorial was completed in July 2012 and serves as place to honor the sacrifices of the coal mining industry in West Virginia.
“We wanted visitors to acknowledge the sacrifice of the coal industry and to leave with respect for those who have given so much.” – Sheila Combs
To learn more about the UBB Memorial Mining Group and the memorial please click here: http://www.ubbminersmemorial.com/the-memorial
The Upper Big Branch memorial is currently standing in the Whitesville community. This memorial serves to honor those who lost their lives, but also seeks to educate visitors about the importance and historical significance of coal mining. Education plays a major role in the efforts of the UBB Mining Memorial Group. The group wants visitors of the memorial to also understand the historical significance of the coal industry in southern West Virginia.
“People need to understand that coal helped build our nation.” –Sheila Combs
Sheila and the UBB Miners Memorial Group also had the idea to establish the Coal River Heritage Riverwalk located beside the memorial with hopes that it would become a destination for educational learning as well as a place for community members to come together for events. The park currently has a beautiful art mural of an old country coal store with a stage and a historical train caboose with an observation deck. The group is also making efforts to promote the Big Coal River for recreational fishing and just recently hosted a Trout Rodeo competition within the community.
Because of the efforts of Sheila and the UBB Mining Memorial Group, Whitesville is becoming a destination for learning, recreation and celebration of coal history in the state. To learn more about the opportunities available in Whitesville please visit http://www.whitesvillewv.com