Bookmark and Share

Community Resource Mapping

Sandy Simmons

Sandy Simmons has lived in Arnett for the entirety of her fifty-seven years.  When she and her husband, Edsell Simmons, got married, they moved into a trailer across the road from her mother’s house, where Sandy had lived before. In 1982 they purchased a module home, in which they still live today.

While Edsell worked as a coal miner, Sandy took care of their children and worked as a nurse. At first she worked private duty so that she could bring her baby to work with her, and once her daughter started kindergarten, Sandy started working full time. Twenty-three years of her nursing career were spent at the Posey Saxon clinic, which burned down in 2002, leading to Sandy’s retirement. The clinic served people from Whitesville, Clearfork, and Beckley. At the same time, Sandy was also on Raleigh General’s list of private nurses, allowing her to contract her time independently. 

Though she has experience working independently, Sandy has never wanted to start or own her own business. Sandy expresses that she is always happy to help, but she has no interest in being a leader. To Sandy, meetings, decision-making, and organizing are unappealing, but lending a hand with cooking, setting up an event, and welcoming people are easy fits. For example, Sandy always helps with her church’s (Arnett Chapel) hot dog sales, but has made a point to remove herself from the planning committee, committing herself to cooking and serving food instead.

Sandy clearly values community and togetherness, as she called the Coal River Valley prosperous in terms of love and care. People like to help each other out and work together, but she also laments the loss of this communal culture over the past three decades. Sandy explains that the stores up and down Route 3 used to serve as gathering places, where people would get together and chat. Specifically, the service station in Dameron was a hangout spot for men in the area. Today, these businesses do not exist, and so there are no gathering places for such socializing. At the same time, people no longer value such interactions in the same way. Sandy perceives an increase in the pace of life—parents rushing their kids to and from extracurricular activities—and expresses that people do not take the time to slow down and socialize.

When describing her vision of the ideal Coal River Valley, Sandy sees many of the lost businesses and stores returning. For one, driving all the way to Beckley to shop is a financial drain at the gas pump, and second, she likes the idea of keeping the money on the river. The loss of businesses in the valley is also difficult for kids—Sandy explains that there used to be skating rinks, bowling alleys, movie theaters, and parks for the children. She would love to see some public parks in the areas, with places for kids to ride their bikes and play.

One of the major barriers to the redevelopment of businesses is the out-migration of the younger generations. Sandy explains that business owners’ children were not interested in taking over when their parents grew old or died, and so the businesses just shut down. Kids either went into the mines or to college—the one exception that she notes is the Jarrell family, who have kept many businesses going. On a more hopeful note, Sandy says that people are moving back. Those that have moved away are returning, and others are coming here to get away from the cities.