WV State Senator Ryan W. Weld - 75th Anniversary Celebration Speech
It is difficult for me to put into words just how honored I am to be a part of today's ceremony in the town that is the first place I ever called home. It's the town where, days after I was born in May of 1980, my parents, Bill and Roseanna, brought me back to the home they had built just a few years earlier on Mayfair Street. The place where, growing up I watched from the sidelines at Jimmy Carey Stadium as my stepfather Tony Filberto coached the Red Riders and Blue Dons. My hometown where my babysitter, Bertha Zerkle, would walk me to preschool at the Weirton Christian Center on Elm Street. To a kid who was a member of the St. Joe's class of '94, standing before you all here today is, to put it simply, pretty cool. And so, I want to thank Mayor Miller, City Manager Adams, and their tremendous staff for asking me to be here.
At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 1947, Weirton officially became West Virginia's fourth largest city when Mayor Thomas E. Millsop opened the City's first-ever council meeting. When Mayor Millsop took office, he made it clear that he intended to serve only one term, stating, "there are two things I'll be only once - a husband and a mayor." I don't know if he was ever divorced and remarried, but he was reelected to a second term as mayor in 1951.
The City of Weirton was born out of the vision of just one man - but that vision was brought to life through the hard work of thousands of others. E. T. Weir provided the opportunity - but without the blood, sweat, and tears of so many men and women, that opportunity would have gone unfulfilled.
While Weirton may have officially become a city on that Tuesday afternoon back in July of 1947...ever since Mr. Weir first opened the mill in 1909, it had long been what it continues to be today: a strong community. When people think about cities that serve as examples of the great American melting pot, they most likely don't think first about Weirton - but they should.
The furnaces and railyards of Weirton Steel served as the reason people from all over the world came to this place and made it their home. And as a result, Weirton became that melting pot - made up of African Americans, Croatians, Greeks, Italians, Poles, Serbians, Slovaks, Yemenis, and others - all of whom brought their cultures with them and made them a part of the fabric of this community to this day.
Throughout its first thirty years or so, Weirton was a place of unparalleled success.
Those who grew up here often look back and say that there was no better place to spend your childhood. Summers were spent at either the Starvaggi Pool or the Marland Heights Pool.
Halloween meant everyone was headed to the Center for a costume party. And at Christmastime, you would find crowded Main Street sidewalks as shoppers walked in between stores such as Denmark's, Rodak's, Rogers Jeweler's, and Marlinn's Shoes. To many, Weirton was the epitome of American dream.
But I don't look back to this time just to say "look how good things were back then." Instead, I look back to make an example of it. It's easy for a place and its people to come together and be a community when times are good. When jobs are plentiful. What happens, when a community is tested, however, is the true measure of its people. And time and time again the people of Weirton have shown that they will come together as a community, stand up, and fight back.
In the early '80s, when Weirton's very existence was threatened and its way of life was in doubt, this city came together in a way that got the country's attention. And just like they did in 1947, the people here stood together as a community with a task and a purpose - and showed to those who were watching that a community doesn't just stick together when its easy - but also when they need to fight back. In that time, "we can do it" became this town’s new motto - and that's exactly what happened: they did it.
But since then, events that have been beyond our control have worked against us, and caused us to rethink this place and its purpose. Because of that, many people have wondered: is Weirton still that same community? I believe that it is.
Weirton's story could have ended when the sound of the mill ended. But it didn't. Instead, those who have stayed have worked together to give this city a second life - a new purpose. Once again, the nation is watching Weirton - this time to see if we fail, or if we succeed in finishing this comeback story.
I know that this collective effort will not be a quick one. It won't be had in a year's worth of campaigning leading to a single day at the polls like it was with the votes for incorporation or the ESOP buyout. It has been a long fight and one that will continue for years to come.
But I have no doubt - none whatsoever - that just like before we will be victorious.
Because the drive and determination to make our home a better place is still here - and those who are in this fight carry with them the same spirit and foresight shown by E.T. Weir in 1909, by those who led the effort in '47, and by those who fought for this community in '84. Once again, Weirton will show the world: we can do it.
WV State Senator Ryan W. Weld