Grand Opening Celebration Planned for Folklife Center

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Grand Opening Celebration is planned for the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College. As part of a week of events planned for Homecoming 2011, the Grand Opening Celebration will take place at 3 p.m. at the Folklife Center, which is located near the Squibb Wilson Boulevard entrance to the main campus.

Guests can sample traditional, old-time cookies, wassail and hot chocolate in the hospitality tent. Enjoy folk music selections, tour the Center and listen to an exhibit gallery talk in The Great Room of Cultures on the second floor. The Great Room of Cultures will be featured, showcasing the potential of the permanent exhibit, “A People Upon the Land.” A gallery talk will salute the first exhibit panel, “The Story of Coal.”

“The Grand Opening is really a ‘kick off’ of a year of celebration and events at the Foklife Center. Our Homecoming 2011 theme, ‘Let Your Dreams Become Your Reality,’ is perfect, for our dream of a folklife center has become a reality and a resource gift to our students,  community and region,” said Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Folklife Center.

The Folklife Center will be open to the public for an Open House during the weekend of Homecoming 2011. The Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29.

As part of the celebration on Oct. 27, J. Davitt McAteer will be honored with the B.B. Maurer Folklife Scholar Award. The Traditions Salute Award will be presented to the Historic German Swiss Village of Helvetia, West Virginia.

The B.B. Maurer Folklife Scholar Award annually honors a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the preservation and perpetuation of our Appalachian cultural heritage. The award is named for Dr. B.B. Maurer (1920-2003), considered the “Father of Cultural Studies in West Virginia.” McAteer is an attorney, educator and author internationally recognized as an expert on mine health and safety issues in West Virginia and across the nation.  McAteer will be available for book signings of his book, “Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster.”

McAteer worked with consumer and environmental advocate Ralph Nader to enact the landmark 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Acts. During the 1970s, he led the safety and health programs of the United Mine Workers and founded the Occupational Safety and Health Law Center. He was Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health at the United States Department of Labor under President Bill Clinton, the Acting Solicitor for the Department of Labor and an advisor to the recovery efforts at Ground Zero following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. As personal counsel for the State of West Virginia, he conducted independent investigations into the causes of mining disasters at Sago and Aracoma Alma No.1 which resulted in the passage of the 2006 U.S. Miners Act . In December 2007, he published “Monongah:  The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster” (West Virginia University Press) to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the worst industrial accident in United States history. The text was awarded the 2008 Bronze Prize for history in the Independent Publishers Book Awards.

The Traditions Salute Award annually honors a person or group that has demonstrated a passion and commitment toward the enhancement of West Virginia folk culture through education and public resources. The Historic German Swiss Village of Helvetia is a small village in the hills of Randolph County dedicated to maintaining its German Swiss traditions, food and folk ways. Helvetia Village gifts will be on sale at the event.

A group of FSU students representing the Folklife Center in the 2011 Appalachian Teaching Project Grant, sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission, have been analyzing the cultural and economic sustainability of the Helvetia Historic Village concept.  Besides visiting Helvetia as part of their study, the students also journeyed to parts of Germany and Switzerland during the 2011 summer term to study the community’s origins through “The Roads to Appalachia Study Abroad Program,” directed by the Folklife Center.

Helvetia began in 1869 when a group of Swiss- and German-speaking immigrants calling themselves the Gruetli Verein  settled in a mountain valley that they named “Helvetia,” in memory of their homeland, The Confederation of Helvetica (Switzerland), because many of them had originated from the Aargau Region. In addition to farmers and herdsmen, many craftsmen and professionals were among the settlers: stonemasons; carpenters; painters; wagon, shoe, watch, hat and cheese makers; musicians; teachers; ministers; and doctors. The community continued to thrive and even weathered The Great Depression to become a group of modern day folks who value education and a love for cultural heritage. In 1978, the Helvetia Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Many community organizations have kept the village life alive through traditional activities and events. Most festivities are annual celebrations, such as Fasnacht, The  Helvetia Ramp Supper, Swiss National Holiday, Go Tell It On the Mountain Gospel Weekend, Helvetia Community Fair and Helvetia Day. The Star Band, which was one of the original organizations, still exists and has changed forms from a marching band to a dance band. The Folk Dance group that was formed in 1938 has evolved into a folklore group of singers, dancers, fanenschwengers (flag swingers), alphorn players and yodelers. Present businesses, such as The Hutte’ Restaurant, The Helvetia Shepherds, The Gift Shop and The Honey Shop have evolved over the many years into tourist oriented enterprises. The Helvetia Restoration and Development Archives Organization is growing into a Historical Society, providing a repository of Helvetia photographs and history and maintaining the Museum in one of the original cabins.

The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center is dedicated to the identification, preservation and perpetuation of our region’s rich cultural heritage through academic studies; educational programs, festivals and performances; and publications.

A generous gift from Frank and Jane Gabor was applied to the adaptive reuse of the historic properties on the west side of campus, formerly known as The Colonial Apartments (c. 1941) and The Kennedy Barn site (c. 1903) on the original location of the Michael Kennedy Dairy Farm.

To RSVP, please contact Beth Martin at (304) 367-4009.