FORCED TO LEAVE: Coal mining is the backbone of the West Virginia economy


When coal mines lay miners off many men and women are left to choose do they leave the area?
It’s no secret. There’s been a sharp decline in the coal industry over the past couple of years.

And regardless of the reason — the downturn is having a real impact on the families left behind to pick up the pieces.

Meet Mary Wolf  She’s the proud wife of a surface coal miner. And like many others in our area, she heard devastating news out of the blue.

Wolfe said, “The patriot coal and obviously their issues. They laid him off and told him he’d be back to work in two weeks, and it was about a week into his layoff and they said call back in another two weeks and they just kept giving him the run around, and it got to the point where we had to do something.” 

The did eventually hear back from Patriot. But it wasn’t the news they were hoping for. Her husband, William was out of a job.

But this isn’t the first time the family heard this type of news. Coal mining is not a stable profession something both Mary and William have come to realize over the years.

William Wolfe said said, “They tell you call back in two weeks and you know then you’re not going back to work.” 

Wolfe said, “It’s hard because you don’t know. It’s usually around the holidays when they usually start laying off. I remember one Christmas they laid him off and we hadn’t saved any money so our kids barely got Christmas that year, but thankfully we have family and friends who take care of us.” 

Mary Wolfe said, several months after receiving the devastating news, another coal company came calling.

Wolfe said, “They called and offered him a job in western Pennsylvania, and he said at that time I can’t do that, I can’t move that far from my family and so that week we checked our bank account and I freaked out on him and said we have to do something and so he called that guy back and was going to take that job and that guy said no here’s a guy’s name and number from Alabama.” 

After a few more calls and plenty of thinking, William was on his way to Alabama. He says he’s not the only out of state coal miner in Alabama. 

William Wolfe said, “Oh I would say 70 percent of coal miners working in the coal mines in Alabama are from West Virginia.” 

William’s been there for a few weeks, leaving Mary behind to take care of their daughter Lilly. 

So what is family life like now verses when he was here. 

Wolfe said, “I have to keep her busy because she misses her daddy and she cries at night and says she misses him and stuff, and so that’s hard. So I have to play the role of mommy and daddy.” 

And while being married to someone who lives over 500 miles away can be struggle, technology has become a vital source for the family to stay in contact. Mary and William text everyday and use Skype — giving Lilly a chance to see her daddy every day. Sometimes he even drives the nine hour drive back to the mountain state to surprise his family. Like he did a couple of weeks ago, giving us a chance to talk to him about what he and so many other miners are going through nowadays. 

Mary is leaving her options open. While moving down South with William is an option, the thought of leaving her home is heartbreaking.

Wolfe said,  “Leaving West Virginia is terrifying because it is my comfort zone and I love it here and I guess it’s the unexpected, but West Virginia will always be my home no matter where I go.” 

It’s a struggle that many families in the area know all too well.

Wolfe said- “But I think a lot of people take for granted. They see coal mining as this horrible profession but they don’t see the background, they don’t see the families it affects.”

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