BIG STONE GAP — Appalachia and Big Stone Gap received a few out-of-town visitors last week as they traced their roots back to local coal camps.
Laura DiPersia wanted her family to know what life is like in central Appalachia. Instead of believing what she heard on the news, Laura decided to bring her family to the area to get a firsthand experience of the struggles and perseverance of coal mining families
Laura’s grandfather, Frank V. Auer, was a coal miner in Stonega, Derby and Arno nearly 90 years ago. “He blasted and cut coal, and loaded it into the train cars,” Laura wrote in an email. “He, my grandmother and their baby are buried in Appalachia because although they left for New England my grandfather's heart was always in VA.”
On Thursday, Aug. 29, Laura, her husband Bryan, son Andrew and parents Frank and Arlene received an unofficial tour of the area, arranged by Gary Bush of Appalachia. The family, currently living in Massachusetts, visited the Coal Miners Memorial Wall in Appalachia, the Harry W. Meador Coal Museum in Big Stone Gap and grabbed some dinner at Sugar Hill Cidery in Norton.
On their way out of town, the family stopped by the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park. “We had a wonderful time,” said Laura. “We even got to visit my grandparents’ graves.”
Both Laura and her mother Arlene stated they had visited in the past and hope to come back again soon. “I didn’t realize there was so much to see,” said Arlene.
In an email, Laura offered her thanks to everyone who helped make the family’s trip memorable.
“My family and I wanted to thank you both for your time and effort with helping us connect to some local people with coal mining connections. We had a wonderful visit with Gary and Larry at the Appalachian Cultural Center. We learned a good deal from stories, pictures and memorabilia.”