The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
John Manchester has served as mayor of Lewisburg, West Virginia for 12 years, during which his community has received awards including Coolest Small Town in America 2011. He was named Mayor of the Year in West Virginia in 2012. The Wilderness Society named him an Environmental Hero in 2007 for his efforts to designate wilderness areas within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.
The mountain region of the South is full of small towns built around things like kind people, strong little downtowns and thriving local businesses.
I want to tell you what one of them has meant to me.
Though I grew up in rural New Hampshire, I finally found home in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
West Virginia was kind enough to welcome me to the state 30 years ago by offering to pay for my graduate studies at WVU in Morgantown. It was there I fell in love with the people, the natural beauty and one of my students, who is now my wife.
Lewisburg was kind enough to let me join her family by providing me a job with a local newspaper where I gained a great appreciation for the people in this community. What I learned was Lewisburg is a magical community of caring people, performing arts, a vibrant downtown and easy access to special places—the Greenbrier River with river trail alongside plus Monongahela National Forest and Greenbrier State Forest just a few miles away. There is a healthy mix of newcomers and those with roots stretching back generations. Property owners in this historic town, third oldest in what is now West Virginia, take pride in their properties and have created a welcoming environment for both residents and visitors. Neighbors know their neighbors and look out for them. They smile and wave and ask how sick family members are doing. During the last big snow storm, two police officers while on patrol shoveled out driveways and walks for elderly residents.
Lewisburg is a small town (pop. 3,830) with a big heart. Volunteerism is alive and well here. Our performing arts venues—Carnegie Hall (one of only four such halls in the world), Greenbrier Valley Theatre (the state theater of West Virginia) and Lewis Theatre (home to youth and adult dance troupes) depend upon numerous, loyal volunteers to assist staff in producing quality performances. Volunteers run all our festivals. Countless non-profits operate in town, providing services to clients that would be impossible without their cadre of dedicated volunteers.
When friends up north asked me why I would want to live here, I related an early experience: My family had just moved into a small town north of Lewisburg some years back. My wife was seven months pregnant and needed to get to a doctor’s appointment the next morning. The water pump in our car had died, and I was sweating the challenge of installing a water pump for the first time. The rain was pouring down. Along comes a neighbor I had never met and asks if he could help. Absolutely! I fed him the tools. The part went in smoothly. We both got drenched. We shook hands, and he walked back home. I was amazed and grateful. The car was fixed, and my wife made her appointment the next day. When you find a community so caring, why would you want to live anywhere else?