Mayor Bob Henry Baber believes there was “much ado about something wonderful” Saturday in Richwood.
And he’s not alone.
Folks came together to celebrate spring with ramps and to save a community tradition.
The annual Feast of the Ramson once again attracted a large crowd, an important step forward for weary residents still recovering from last June’s floods.
They’re determined to regain their lives, and the ramps represent a way of life they never stopped loving.
Their mountaineer spirit prevailed as volunteers once again helped with everything from harvesting ramps to serving them to more than 1,000 hungry patrons.
No wonder it’s been called the ramp capital of the world.
“Richwood Strong!” is a now familiar local saying, because it reflects how strongly residents feel about making their community better than ever.
Rita Pieri said the adversity fanned a flame in her heart and other volunteer cooks who were proud to be part of this post-flood event.
“It was all new territory for us, but we took on the challenge and showed what we the people of Richwood are all about. A gentleman made his way into the kitchen and said he just wanted to tell us that this was the best ramp dinner he had been to in his life, and well worth the two-hour drive,” she said. “We are Richwood strong!”
Mary Jane Williams, president of the Richwood Area Chamber of Commerce, said her organization takes pride in sponsoring the long-running event which is known as the “granddaddy of all Appalachian ramp feeds.”
“In a lot of ways, Richwood epitomizes West Virginia because we are fighters and work hard for what we want in life. We are a small town, our population has dropped to about 2,000 people, but we continue to move ahead with our festivals and other events,” she said.
It dates back to 1937 when some men met at Civilian Conservation Camp Cranberry to tell tales, eat wild game and side dishes of local vegetables, including ramps.
More people attended the next year, and the rest is history.
As per tradition, local volunteers have been busy since the beginning of the month harvesting and cleaning 1,700 pounds of ramps.
Flood damage to the now-closed Richwood High School meant that this year’s meal was moved to the Cherry River Elementary School’s cafeteria, where there was live music and entertainment.
An arts and crafts show was held in the shops along East Main Street, at City Hall and at the Richwood Alumni Hall.
“We just decided we weren’t going to let the flood stop us.”
“And we’ve been very unstoppable since then,” Williams said.
Caroline “Cara” Perkins, a city employee, can’t shake the pain she felt upon coming home to her flooded community and seeing people “just kind of staring at all of the devastation, but not knowing what to do. It was like they were in a post apocalyptic state.”
That didn’t last long.
Local folks were soon joined by volunteers and together they’ve brought the town back.
And that now includes the annual ramp celebration.
“Richwood has burnt down twice, so I do feel like what has been done since the flood is more proof that this is a town that won’t die. I almost feel like this has brought us back full circle again, and we not only know what needs done but we do it,” Perkins said.
“The fact that the Feast of the Ramson will go on proves that Richwood will go on. We are going to represent the only way we know how, which is to be proud and keep our traditions alive.”
Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber said “that never give up spirit” is a driving force locally and hasn’t failed yet.
He said the event “surpassed even our wildest hopes. The logistics were a hassle due to the flood, but absolutely no one cared.”
Earth Day was the perfect time to dedicate the town’s new Helios Park which was made with local wood and has solar panels that will power its own lighting.
Richwood High School’s Lumberjack Express Band, directed by Greg James for more than 30 years, is another example of how the community moves ahead despite adversity, Baber said.
“The flood happens in the high school and two days later they go down, after the water has receded, to fish out out a quarter-million dollars worth of uniforms out of the mud to be dry cleaned.”
“Just five weeks later, in time for the Cherry River Festival which was not cancelled, they come walking up the street. All the people of Richwood are standing there with people from across the United States who’ve been helping us, and you have never seen such tears of joy,” he said.
Local pride and perseverance always triumph.
“If you are worried about the future of America, you need to come to Richwood, West Virginia, in the heart of our country. Come to Richwood,a dying coal town that has been pulling itself out of the river and just watch the Lumberjack Express Band. You will see that Richwood is alive and well, and that its heart is still beating strong.”