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A Day Full of Haymaker

A Day Full of Haymaker

A dramatic Facebook post, a failed court injunction, and and a contentious 4-hour council meeting. 24 hours of debate on Haymaker.

Midnight Rider: The Many Faces of Ben Kolb

Midnight Rider: The Many Faces of Ben Kolb

The West Virginia artist who defied the National Guard to deliver flood relief, won the respect of his community, and brought a world of creativity to Mannington.

Fifteen-Mile Hustle: The Extraordinary Work Ethic of Rachel Parrish

Fifteen-Mile Hustle: The Extraordinary Work Ethic of Rachel Parrish

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Rachel Parrish confidently moves a grooming brush across the horse’s mane, releasing tangles and bits of hay.

“His name is Fat Boy,” she says with a smile.

Despite her casual manner, Rachel’s responsibilities are pressing.  She is a worker here at WVU’s Equine Education and Resource Center, a full-time veterinary assistant, a part-time WVU student, president of the WVU Collegiate Horseman’s Association (CHA), and the secretary of the national CHA organization.

At 23 years old, she has already dedicated more than a decade to working with animals.  It started with a single horse.

Falling in Love

Rachel was born near Richmond, Virginia’s busy highways, train trestles and cobblestone streets.  Fifteen miles south, the landscape opens up into fields, forests and streams.  It was here, in the town of Chester that Rachel first got in a saddle.  She was 12 years old.

“It was a white mustang,” Rachel said with a glint in her eye.  “I loved it.”  The ride had been given to her as a gift from a family member.  “If I had to thank somebody for starting it all, it would be my uncle, because he’s the one who paid for that first horseback riding lesson, and it just took off from there.”

Her uncle, Russ Baker, was simply giving a gift that he had enjoyed at her age many years previous.  And trying to keep her out of trouble.  “I thought maybe a horseback ride would give her something to concentrate on besides boys,” Baker said with a laugh.  “And it worked! She fell in love.”

Rachel concedes that a periodic fascination with horses is almost stereotypical for girls.  “A lot of people think it’s a phase and they’ll grow out of it,” she said.  “I didn’t.”

The night after her first lesson, Rachel told her parents that she wanted to go back.

A Passion Expanding

Unfortunately for Rachel, horseback riding lessons were (and are) expensive.  But rather than allow the newfound passion to fade into a cliché of youth, she approached Elaine Wilson, the barn manager who owned the mustang, with a proposition: she would work in the barn in exchange for lessons.  Wilson agreed, and Rachel showed promise instantly.

“She’s just got such a nice way about her that the animals really responded to her,” Wilson said.

Rachel’s early work was not glamorous.  She began learning the basics by mucking stalls and feeding the horses.  But this early in Rachel’s working life, Wilson could already see the concerted work ethic that would stay with her into her time at WVU.

“We’ve had other kids who don’t really want to work, but I never had a problem with Rachel,” Wilson said.  As if to emphasize the point, she repeated, “Never.”

When Rachel learned that one of her riding instructors was the leader of the barn's 4H club, she began working with that organization as well.  This involved a wider variety of projects, from community service to fundraising campaigns for horse show competitions.

By 2015, Rachel had graduated from a junior college.  Though horses were still a passion, by then she had realized that her interests extended to the entire animal kingdom and was working part-time with a local veterinary clinic.  She didn’t necessarily want to be a vet, but she knew that she wanted to complete a bachelor’s degree in a field that involved working with animals.  One evening, she found herself on the phone with a friend who was already attending WVU, discussing her options.

“While I was on the phone with her, we were looking at WVU majors and I saw that they had an equine studies minor,” Rachel said.

She applied that very night.

Ambassador

In August of 2015, Rachel started working at Morgantown’s Hillcrest Veterinary Clinic, where she is still employed.  Hillcrest offers her opportunities that she couldn’t have at home.  Virginia’s veterinary services are heavily regulated, requiring technician certifications to perform important tasks like drawing blood, running bloodwork, and giving injections.  In West Virginia, certification is not required, allowing her to to get more hands-on experience with treating animals.

Spending this much time around pets gives Rachel a surprising glimpse into human nature as well.  Some of it is encouraging. “Around Christmas time, I can’t tell you how many clients will bring homebaked goods and candy and cookies just to thank us for all the hard work that we do year round,” Rachel said.

On the other hand, it can also be disheartening.  “I try not to judge, but when you see someone come in with their pet and it’s been sick for a week, and they come up with a million excuses about why they couldn’t bring their pet in sooner, that kind of changes my view on people.”

The suffering of animals seems to be an animating force for Rachel. She thinks of her work as ambassadorship for the pets she’s treating.

“This may sound kind of ridiculous to say, but the point of being in the veterinary field is that we’re advocating for them,” Rachel said.  “People can speak for themselves. We’re speaking for the ones who can’t speak.”

Not long after she began working at Hillcrest, Rachel began working toward her Animal Nutrition Sciences major at WVU.  She was unsure what the university had to offer, but was soon introduced to the WVU Collegiate Horseman’s Association (CHA) in one of her equine studies classes. She started attending the club right away.

By her second year, she was the secretary, and by the following semester she was serving as president of the WVU chapter and secretary of the national CHA organization.

Heavy Load, Even Keel

Fifteen miles east of WVU’s crowded downtown campus, Rachel walks Fat Boy down the stable corridor to turn him out into a field. She makes the 25-minute drive to The Hazel Ruby McQuain Equine Education and Resource Center (which she just calls “the farm”) often.

“I typically don’t have weekends,” she says.  "There may be one weekend every 2 or 3 months that I don’t have to work at either the farm or the clinic.”

Nothing about Rachel suggests that she is bitter about this.  On the contrary, all of the work seems to continually drive her toward her eventual goal: leading a team of people as a farm manager.

As she removes Fat Boy’s lead and lets him wander into a field with the other horses, the air feels cool, the sun warm, the day leisurely and serene.  A fifteen-mile drive home awaits.

 

Paddleboard Yoga Comes to Cheat Lake

Paddleboard Yoga Comes to Cheat Lake

Canyon Gorge

Canyon Gorge

Canyon Gorge is a rutted, one-lane road that winds down a hillside to the bank of Cheat Lake. It’s short, but it feels like West Virginia.  Just to the left, overlooking the water, you’ll find the beautiful home of Joelle Cameron.

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On Saturdays and Sundays, Joelle teaches stand up paddleboard (SUP) yoga out on the water. The positions and movements are largely the same, but as the name implies, they are performed on a 10’ floating platform.

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She started practicing three years ago here in Morgantown at Suncrest Yoga. Eventually, she took an instructor class, and everything took shape from there. 

On this particular morning, Joelle has two students, Kaitlynn and Jamie. Kaitlynn drove all the way from Pittsburgh.

“It wasn’t too bad, only an hour. This is way prettier than Pittsburgh,” she laughs.

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Everyone seems to agree that the surroundings are a big part of what makes the class experience so unique. “It’s so peaceful on a Sunday to come out here and be on the water,” Jamie tells me.

Joelle agrees wholeheartedly. “We’ve got the best spot on the lake. We go right over to Quarry Run and there’s a waterfall in there. It’s nice and quiet. You don’t have to paddle too far to get there. It’s just beautiful.”

Joelle shows Jamie and Kaitlynn how to size their paddles

Joelle shows Jamie and Kaitlynn how to size their paddles

What sets SUP yoga apart, aside from the scenery, is the fact that the support itself moves beneath you. The idea can be intimidating for people new to the practice, but Joelle says the board serves as a feedback mechanism for learning how to get better at yoga.

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“On a stable platform like the floor, you could be uneven the whole class and not know it. But on a paddleboard, it’s going to tell you. Your weight will shift one way or the other.”

As the body counters and balances those shifts in weight, it uses fine muscle control that is rarely employed anywhere else. Which means that it’s a great way to strengthen untapped muscle groups.

“I’ve heard people say that they use muscles that they’ve never used before, and they’re either semi-sore or very sore after class,” Joelle says. “I think it’s a whole body workout.”

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After some basic instruction, the girls paddle a short distance across the lake. They anchor in a shaded cove and begin the class. The small waterfall Joelle mentioned emanates a gentle white noise, occasionally cut by the sound of a boat in the distance.

Before the day is over both students will have tumbled into the water once. Each time they laugh it off and continue.

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It would be disingenuous to say that paddleboard yoga looks easy. But perhaps there’s something to be said for a particular discipline when failure means swimming in the lake on a summer morning. Some of us were going to do that anyway.

Black Bear Comes Full Circle

Black Bear Comes Full Circle

Black Bear owners Jason Coffman and Matt Showalter opened the restaurant for the wrong reason. 

At least, that’s what they tell me.


Three years before Black Bear founded its first location on Pleasant Street, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain published his New York Times bestselling book, Kitchen Confidential.  Jason Coffman picked up a copy, and one of the parts that stuck out most to him was Bourdain’s list of bad reasons to get into the restaurant business.  When I ask what he took away from it, Jason laughs and says, “You don’t get into it because you think it’s cooler than what you’re doing, I can tell you that right now.”  Which is exactly what Jason and Matt would do.

The two had been roommates and friends at WVU.  In those days, it was not uncommon for them to spend time talking about a hypothetical restaurant that would also integrate the art and music of their community.  (They refer to these as “wouldn’t-it-be-cool” conversations.)  While the dialogue was ongoing and enthusiastic, both eventually graduated and went their separate ways to pursue jobs with their respective degrees.


Unfortunately, neither found much excitement or fulfillment in the day-to-day roles they had been training for.  “In a nutshell, we felt like we were sitting and staring at paperwork and computer screens,” Matt says.  “We were young and motivated, and we wanted to do something greater than what we were currently doing.”

Gradually, the restaurant conversation that had been ongoing for years seemed less hypothetical.  The two spent some time working in a North Carolina restaurant together, learning what they could about the business.  In 2003 Jason and Matt finally made the leap, opening the downtown Black Bear location.  Together, they had years of experience working for restaurants, but no experience running one.  “When we opened the downtown location, I could barely manage myself, let alone other people,” Matt says.

 

  The two were pulling long hours working a variety of positions, from the kitchen during the day to closing managers at night.  At the same time, they were having to figure out parts of the industry that had been missing from their youthful wouldn’t-it-be-cool conversations: how to work on restaurant equipment, manage products, file business tax returns, work with brewers and food providers, and so on.

Morgantown responded to the food, service and atmosphere of Black Bear with enthusiasm.  By 2008, lines were stretching out the door and they were literally being forced to turn people away.  Finally, the success led Jason and Matt to expand the business.  In 2012, their second location opened near WVU’s Evansdale campus.

This kind of volume forced the two to learn a new business strategy: delegation.  As they began to focus more on administration, younger, trustworthy employees were given more and more control of the daily decision-making that had first drawn Jason and Matt to the restaurant business in the first place.

They had soon come full circle, eventually ending up in front of paperwork and computer screens again – an ironic twist in a success story about chasing your dreams.  When I ask whether they feel a similar dissatisfaction with their jobs this time around, they assure me that they do not. 

Matt concedes that they did not precisely envision the work Black Bear would eventually require of them.  “We never sat around as college students and said, ‘Oh man, wouldn’t be awesome if we had to meet with an insurance agent and discuss insurance rates?’  We talk a lot about the old days, when we were completely worn out, having worked a million hours, standing in that office downtown trying to come up with a silly name for a special.”

Nevertheless, the administrative work they’re now doing now has a sense of purpose that was absent during the early days of Black Bear.  “We’re doing this for each other,” Jason says.  “We have children, homes, wives we’re doing it for.  We’re doing it for 64 employees that are counting on jobs with us.  We do it to make Black Bear a staple in Morgantown.”

There are few businesses in Morgantown that have integrated themselves into the community as completely as Black Bear.  For more than a decade the owners have provided a place for local artists to hang out and sell their work, given local musicians a place to perform, and served up healthy food with ingredients from regional farms.  They have continually contributed to groups like Cooper’s Rock Foundation, Friends of Deckers Creek, Friends of the Cheat, and the West Virginia Land Trust, to name a few.

Making the city a better place now seems to gives meaning to work that they once shunned in favor of naming specials and serving healthy food.  “Some of the things that provided the joy have definitely changed, but the joy is still there,” Matt says.  “You just learn to appreciate the bigger picture.”

One Year After Shooting, Monongalia Sheriffs Get Body Cameras

One Year After Shooting, Monongalia Sheriffs Get Body Cameras

Ten Monongalia Sheriffs raid a Morgantown home, killing the grandson of a WVU Hall of Fame coach.  None of the deputies are wearing the department's body cameras.  One year later, things are about to change.


When the posse of ten sheriff’s deputies quietly gathered outside the front door of David Romanoski’s home on Charles Avenue last November, he was not even a person of interest.  The deputies were instead looking for Justin Knisell, a young man that he had allowed to sleep there on a number of occasions.  Knisell was suspected of beating two men with a pistol during an armed robbery earlier the same day.

 

According to Romanoski's fiance, Karen Tackett, he often let people come and go freely, and Knisell was someone who had stayed with them "here and there".  But she also says that things had gone sour between the two men after a recent argument, and that the house had been "on lockdown" ever since.

                A plain-clothed deputy knocked on the door first, claiming to be there to fix the furnace before pushing his way in, followed closely by the rest of the team.  Tackett, another woman and her 17-year-old son were all forced to the living room floor as deputies headed into the bedroom.  It was here that they claim Romanoski was waiting for them with a shotgun and a pistol.  He was shot three times.

Karen Tackett claims that the officers never identified themselves out loud, and that the shotgun was behind a door, out of Romanoski’s reach.  The deputies remember it differently.  It is impossible to know for sure, because none of the deputies were wearing the department’s body cameras.  After the incident, Sheriff Al Kisner said that deputies had stopped using the devices because they did not record well in low light and had poor battery life.  He said that the department had applied for grant money to purchase a more reliable model, but it was not approved.

Police shootings are always a sensitive issue, but particularly so in this case because someone not suspected of a crime had been killed on their own property.  Body cameras would have revealed the two most important factors in determining the legality of the killing: 1) whether deputies did indeed announce their identity and 2) whether David Romanoski was indeed brandishing a shotgun when he was killed in his bedroom.

It is easy to imagine a realistic scenario in which neither the authorities nor Romanoski were legally at fault for his death.  If Romanoski had the house on “lockdown” fearing further interaction with Knisell, and was then awakened from sleep by the sound of shouting as deputies forced their way inside, he may have thought Knisell – who had just committed an armed robbery with an accomplice that day – was doing the same to him.  Grabbing a shotgun from behind the door may have been a perfectly reasonable response to the situation; it may have been equally reasonable for an officer to respond the way he did while serving an arrest warrant for a violent criminal.

Long-time Morgantown newscaster and commentator Hoppy Kercheval noted at the time:  “[T]he circumstances surrounding the death of Romanoski are troubling. In some ways, he was like many West Virginians who arm themselves against a possible home invasion.”  Without body camera footage, we’re left to speculate, but a grand jury later found that there was no reason to charge the officer who fired the shots.

On November 26th, 2016 – a full year after the shooting of Romanoski – Sheriff Kisner announced that the Monongalia Sheriff’s Department had finally received new body cameras.  However, when Zackquill filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request) for the purchase order, the department sent one that had been completed that very day: December 1.

How the department was in possession of cameras it had not yet purchased is unclear, but the fact remains:

Body cameras will soon be worn by all Monongalia County deputies.  Future cases like Romanoski’s will, Morgantown hopes, be less clouded by the doubt and uncertainty that plagued residents – especially his fiancé – after his death.