WEIRTON - Local community leaders joined a crowd of more than 150 people at the Serbian-American Cultural Center Monday to recognize U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller for his service to the steel industry and West Virginia.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va. was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Steelworkers and the Man of Steel award from the Cold Finished Steel Bar Institute. He previously announced he would not be seeking re-election this year.
Many in attendance had a memory to share regarding Rockefeller's history with the city and the region.
TALKING STEEL — U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., left, looks on as United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard recalls the senator’s decades of service fighting for the nation’s steel industry. -- Shae Dalrymple
Weirton Ward 5 Councilman George Gaughenbaugh recalled when the senator helped establish the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which helped keep Weirton Steel producing in the early 1980s.
"He's helped us out a lot through the years. Through the ESOP era and anytime we ever needed any help or assistance, he was always there for us," Gaughenbaugh commented.
Weirton Mayor George Kondik said "For the last 20 years that I've been in politics, Senator Rockefeller has always been very supportive of all the endeavors that we've worked toward in our city. I appreciate his concern for the city and his advice about the progress and future of Weirton."
Tony Paesano, president of the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce and former Follansbee mayor, remembered back to the beginning of the senator's career.
"I started working with him in 1976. I've been involved in every one of his campaigns. He did a lot for the steel industry, and he's responsible for Wheeling-Nisshin coming to Follansbee, West Virginia. He created the 175 good-paying jobs with benefits. We're very, very grateful for that. I had a lot of fun in his campaigns. It was always interesting. In my opinion, I think he is a great senator, and he cared about people," Paesano observed.
Dan Greathouse, Hancock County commissioner, said that he would not be where he is today without some of Rockefeller's work.
"I can tell you this much personally. Jay Rockefeller passed legislation that allowed steel workers to go to college and helped them with their credits, and that was in 1984. That allowed me to go back and get my degree. He helped me get back to college and get started. He really did," Greathouse said. "I know he was always a fighter for Weirton Steel, and he was always out there for us. He still continues to fight to this day for us. He's been an ally to Hancock County."
Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, noted the senator's continuing interest in assisting the Ohio Valley and its residents.
"What we have found most impressive with our relationship with Senator Rockefeller, particularly in the past five years, is not only his involvement with helping our organization strengthen the steel industry that's currently here, but also his interest in working with Brooke and Hancock counties to diversify our economy. We were just meeting with him today to go over some of the opportunities and review some of the prospects with him. So to have someone of his stature work with a local economic development group is refreshing and exciting. We really appreciate his continued service to Brooke and Hancock counties," Ford said.
Ed Bowman, former West Virginia state senator, also appreciated Rockefeller's efforts to bolster the city of Weirton in particular.
"Senator Rockefeller has been a true friend to the steel industry, and he has always been concerned about what's happening in our community," Bowman said. "I've been in numerous conversations, some that occurred just over the last three or four months, and he is very deeply involved with a group, of which I am a part of, trying to deal with ArcelorMittal so that we can get some of their land for future economic development purposes. He has really been a strong proponent for us to do this, so we owe him a lot of credit."
(Dalrymple can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)