By RACHEL C. DOVE
NAUGATUCK - The date of April 5, 2010, will be remembered in West Virginia history as a day when the lives of families, friends, co-workers, fellow coal miners, citizens of West Virginia and others from locations all across our nation were changed forever, as the sorrowful news was delivered that all 29 miners who were trapped inside the Performance Coal Upper Big Branch Mine at Montcoal, had perished.
One of the 29 who lost their lives was a life-long resident of Mingo County, and as of this past Saturday, his name will forever be viewed by those traveling through the small community of Naugatuck where a bridge was renamed in his honor.
Joe “Bug” Marcum was born in 1953 to the late Alex and Garnett White Marcum, and was married to Kathy Maynard Marcum who was the love of his life for 39 years. He was the proud father of Kathy Jo Marcum and Garnet Marcum Murphy, and loving grandfather to three granddaughters who meant the world to him, Shaunda, Josie and Laura.
West Virginia House of Delegates Justin Marcum (D-20), who had been acquainted with the Marcum family for many years, had made a promise to himself that if he was blessed enough to serve in the legislature, one of his first priorities would be to create a memorial to his friend and felt that naming a permanent structure after Joe “Bug” was the right way to go. The delegate met with the Marcum family and presented his idea, and received their full support.
On March 2, 2012, Delegate Marcum along with fellow Delegates White, Caputo, R. Phillips, Moore, Boggs, L. Phillips, Stowers and Hall sponsored House Concurrent Resolution No. 81 that reads as follows:
“We are requesting that bridge 30-52-7.85 at the intersection of U.S. Route 52 and State Route 65, in Mingo County, WV, be named the “Joe ‘Bug’ Marcum Memorial Bridge.”
Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum was an active volunteer in his home community of Laurel Creek in Mingo County, WV; and Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum was an avid fan and supporter of Tug Valley High School, a member of the Lenore Volunteer Fire Department and a true friend of Mingo County; and Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum enjoyed hunting and fishing in Southern WV, and Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum was a coal miner who took pride in his work; and Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum lost his life at the age of 53, on April 5, 2010, in Raleigh County, being one of the twenty-nine miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster; and Whereas, Joe “Bug” Marcum leaves a widow, Kathy Marcum and daughters Kathy Jo and Garnet; and Whereas, the many friends and family of Joe “Bug” Marcum wish to honor the memory of Joe “Bug” Marcum for his many contributions to the community by naming in his honor Bridge 30-52-7.85 which has been known as the Naugatuck Bridge, at the intersection of U.S. Route 52 and state Route 65, Mingo County, WV, the “Joe ‘Bug’ Memorial Bridge”; therefore be it Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia.
Delegate Marcum had to pause for a moment while reading the resolution to those who attended the memorial service, to regain his composure before continuing. Marcum spoke with an emotion filled voice, as he relayed his personal memories of Joe “Bug”.
“He spent many a Friday night in the gymnasium here at Tug Valley High, cheering on his beloved Panthers,” commented Marcum. “His daughters graduated from here, and I truly believe he was looking down from Heaven the day the Panthers won the state championship.”
I can’t tell you how many times while listening to the scanner I heard Unit 422 with the Lenore Volunteer Fire Department mark on the scene of a house fire or an accident,” the delegate continued. “Joe “Bug” was a charter member of the fire department since 1982.”
“It seems that every time I visited the Tug Valley Saddle Club he was right there, and he was very proud of the fact he was one of the founders who helped establish the club. He was always more than ready to talk to you about his horse, Diamond.”
“Joe “Bug” was my friend – and he was a friend of Mingo County. He was a man of immense integrity with a heart that yearned to help his fellow man.”
“I am proud but humbled to be able to stand here today and share these words, but words cannot do justice to a man like Joe “Bug” Marcum.”
Victory Christian Center Pastor Terry Joe Blankenship, who also preached the fallen miner’s funeral, spoke to the crowd and prayed over the family, asking that God be merciful and ease their suffering, giving them the strength and endurance to continue their lives without their loved one.
Valerie Marcum, the niece of the deceased, sang a special song as a tribute to her uncle entitled “When he was on the cross, I was on his mind.”
Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith, a special friend of the Marcum family, was asked to speak on their behalf. Smith read from a handwritten letter composed by late miner’s wife and daughters.
“First of all, I want to thank Kathy and these two beautiful young ladies for requesting that I speak on their behalf,” began Smith. “They want each and every one of you to know how deeply they are touched by the outpouring of support you have provided them.”
“The community rallied around this family, and that tells you a lot about the hearts of the residents of our county. We take care of those we love.”
Smith spoke of the close bond Marcum shared with his three granddaughters, saying you would be hard pressed to have seen him out without at least one of them by his side.
“They were his pride and joy.”
“Joe “Bug” and several of his fellow miners were jokingly dubbed the “Old Man Crew” by younger miners who worked with him, but all of them had an immense level of respect for the veteran miner who had a total of 35 years of experience under his belt, 16 of those were at Performance Coal where he died.
“Joe “Bug” and the other 28 miners who lost their lives are heroes,” stated Smith. “Let us never forget the ultimate sacrifice they paid to mine the coal that supports their families, this county, the state – and the nation.”
As the rain fell from the sky, the signs located at each end of the bridge were uncovered, revealing the name of the “Joe “Bug” Marcum Memorial Bridge”. In a fitting tribute, Lenore Fire Chief Jeff “Skip” Ferris sounded the sirens of the fire engine and a large stream of water was shot from the hose, christening the bridge for their fellow firefighter who on so many occasions, had stood by their side.
“We wanted a permanent symbol honoring Joe “Bug”, and I feel nothing will stand the test of time like a bridge,” concluded Marcum.
“May God continue to bless the family and friends of this great man.”