PINEVILLE, WV (WVNS) — For years, the state blossomed with people working in the mines. Jackie Lane, a retired coal miner who now is president of the UMWA Local 1713 in Pineville, said just about anyone has a relation to a coal miner.
“You can talk to anybody in this area, and you’ll see, my grandpa was a coal miner, my dad was a coal miner, my uncle was a coal miner. That’s all we have in this area,” Lane said.
Terry Bannister began his career in the mines in 1976. He said he got his hands on all kinds of jobs down in the mines. Just like Lane, Bannister said his career was inspired by what generations before him did for a living.
“I am a fourth generation coal miner. My great grandfather came from England and settled on the New River and was a coal miner, my grandfather was a coal miner, and my uncle was a coal miner, and then me,” Bannister said.
Coal mining became a great way to make a living, that even women took it up for a career. Brenda Ellis is now the Recording Secretary at UMWA Local 1713 in Pineville, but she said she had her fair share of days working down in the mines and breaking through a glass ceiling with other women.
“When I had started, they had hired a lot of women. They’re hard workers. We’re not given the same opportunities sometimes I feel that the men are because a lot of people have said that the women don’t belong in the mines. But you belong wherever you want to go,” Ellis said.
For these three, their careers were built off of tradition that started generations before them. Now, their children do not share that same aspiration to go into the mines to work like their ancestors did. Ellis said her kids never went to work in the mines, and that is because the coal empire quickly died down from the boom it was in in the 1970s. She said she is not alone in being a parent with kids searching outside of the state for a job.
“There’s so many things we could do, but nobody wants to invest in here or something. I don’t know what our problem is. We need to find something and keep our kids here with us,” Ellis said.
But Lane said it is hard when keeping this way of life is all we know in this state. All the area offered for so long in employment and economic opportunities was coal.
“That’s all we have here is coal mining. We have no other manufacturing like other states have, so this is all we’ve got to rely on. We’ve had numerous people leave. They had to leave. It’s sad,” Lane said.
If and when the state finds a new industry is hard to tell. Until then, the younger generations will continue to seek opportunities elsewhere.