SYLVESTER – “Things just don’t happen. It happens because people who care make it happen.”
Retired Boone County Schools Superintendent Manuel Arvon’s favorite catchphrase fits the small town of Sylvester, where he has served as mayor for the past 15 years. Arvon and a host of others, including members from the steering committee and town council, employees of Alpha Coal Company, and a variety of neighborhood volunteers, are driven to bring this already tight-knit community even closer together through positive actions and events.
“We’re all working together to share our ideas, and of course we’re very proud of our community,” Arvon said. “The people are good neighbors.”
One event that draws nearly the whole town and many from surrounding communities is the annual Sylvester – Big Coal River Celebration, which was held this year July 25 and 26 at what will become the Sylvester Pavilion Park at the site of the former Sylvester Elementary School. The town has enjoyed various community events over the years, like the Dogpatch Reunion, but the festival as it is now began in 2012 as a celebration of Sylvester’s Diamond birthday. (Sylvester was incorporated July 11, 1952.) The celebration has grown year by year into an entire weekend packed with more and more fun, friends, family, and food.
Yard sales lined the streets early Saturday morning, followed by a parade at noon to hail the beginning of the celebration. In the afternoon, Arvon opened the main events with his remarks as mayor, a prayer by Pastor David Minturn, and the National Anthem sung by 13-year-old Abby Bolton, who also performed that evening.
Entertainment abounded all day and into the night, from two blow-up bounce houses for kids to games for children and adults alike, including bean bag tosses, horseshoes, a water balloon toss, basketball, dodgeball, fishing games, a cake walk, and prize drawings. Puppies and pooches paraded across the stage in a Cutest Dog Contest, won by 9-year-old Marlie Mankin and her 9-week-old Shitzu-Poodle Mix, Prim.
A father and son, Stanley Stewart II and Douglas Stewart, won the adult and kid basketball free-throw contest, respectively. The town just installed two new basketball backboards thanks largely to Chairperson Harvey Ferrell as part of the progress of Sylvester Pavilion Park, with plans to buy more. “They’re the nicest rims I’ve ever seen in a community anywhere, everywhere,” said the elder Stewart.
Lynn Walker brought lots of smiles by dressing up throughout Saturday’s activities as Giggles the Clown and Minnie Pearl, and the duo “Punky and Mary” delighted all with their lip sync duet decked out as Johnny Cash and June Carter. Music flooded the evening with performances by Sylvester’s own rising star, Ricky Cooper, followed by Abby Bolton, Charleston’s Southern Draw Band, and local band One Eyed Jack, whose lead singer Jeff Asbury capped the night by saying, “Thank God we [grew] up here in Sylvester,” a sentiment that echoes the town’s chosen motto for this year: “Sylvester, My Home, the Place I Choose to Live.”
Poker Run participants sold hamburgers, walking tacos, and drinks Saturday for a benefit, but the rest of the eats and treats, including nachos and cheese, snow-cones, ice cream, popcorn, and cotton candy, were provided free to the community both days of the event by the town of Sylvester.
Sunday afternoon brought many local pastors, gospel groups and singers to the stage throughout the day. A delicious meal of grilled hotdogs, barbeques, baked beans, chips, desserts, and drinks was provided free of charge to everyone who came to fellowship with the community. Children played in the bounce houses once again, and games such as corn-hole and a dunking tank were set up as well.
Arvon expressed extreme gratitude to all the people who made the Sylvester Celebration and plans for the Sylvester Pavilion Park possible, especially the aforementioned steering committee, town council, and community members who volunteered so much of their time, and Alpha Coal Company, whose help with manpower, time, and money has been invaluable. All these are united in their commitment to improving Sylvester. “I love my community and I want to contribute whatever I can to make it what it is and for people to be happy in our community,” Arvon said. “This is going to be a really nice area for the kids, not only for Sylvester but around us, too. They are welcome to come.”
In addition to the projects in the works for Sylvester Pavilion Park and the annual Celebration, community events will continue throughout the year. Sandy and Wayne Hubbard, who emceed this year’s Celebration, will be showing movies for children at the park, complete with free popcorn and drinks, and Bluegrass music can be enjoyed in the Sylvester Community building regularly as well, according to Arvon. (Inexpensive refreshments will be sold during the Bluegrass sessions to recapture expenses for the annual Celebration, he said.) These events have been taking place every other Thursday, but scheduling may soon change.
Christina Herrell is a freelance writer and teacher for Boone County Schools. She is also a resident of Sylvester, W.Va. She can be reached by email at email@example.com