We’re just two days from Christmas, and despite a nagging throat ailment, I feel blessed because at this time last year and all the way through New Year’s Day, I suffered from COVID and can remember very little concerning the holidays. Unable to shop last season, my wife accurately told me that about the only thing I gave her for Christmas was COVID.
Many things have changed since last year, as we mourn the losses of numerous lives, whether COVID-related or not. However, since Christmas is so much about children and love itself, I wish to relate a true Christmas story of a mother’s love and her willingness to bring joy into the lives of a few infants she would never know until — one by one — they arrived in America, ending up in Buffalo Creek of Logan County, nearly 7,000 miles away from their birthplaces of Seoul, South Korea.
Let’s travel back to the early 1980s when a strikingly pretty and young dark-haired lady first started making regular appearances in the advertising department of The Logan Banner. From my vantage point in the Banner newsroom, I would regularly see her climb the stairway to the second floor advertising department, always with a child in her arms. Little did I know that today — nearly 40 years from that time — I would be relating the story behind her Logan Banner visits.
You see, Linda (Hale) Marsh, who was unable to conceive a child of her own, is no longer with us, having died from brain cancer in 2001, just four days after Larissa Suzanne Marsh celebrated her 13th birthday.
Larissa was the second child that Linda and her husband, Garnet, adopted — painstakingly enduring the obstacles necessary for a foreign-based adoption, which includes a long waiting process and several other factors, not to mention finances.
Although Linda Marsh’s intent was to adopt only girls, when she finally was cleared to adopt a Korean female child, that hope was stripped from her because of an automobile accident that left her with a neck injury. Authorities thought she would not be able to properly care for the child due to the injury.
So, after recovering from the accident, Ms. Marsh leaped at the first opportunity, adopting a son born in 1983 who she named Charlie, and then immediately applied for another child, that time a daughter (Larissa) born in 1988. The Marshes would also later adopt another baby girl, whom they christened Anna Elizabeth.
Following the death of Linda Marsh, her husband married Debbie (Morgan) Marsh, a woman Larissa described as being “a great stepmother.” “We had a wonderful childhood,” explained the olive-skinned Marissa, herself now married to Matt Fraley; the two now raising three children of their own in a home at Amherstdale located directly across the street from where she grew up.
Numerous scrapbook pictures, newspaper articles, awards recognition, VHR tapes and other memorabilia display just how much Linda Marsh cared for her children, all naturalized citizens. From birthday announcements to just about any event in her kids’ lives was recorded in one fashion or another. One Charleston Gazette clipping with former Sen. Jay Rockefeller holding Larissa depicts the est Virginia senator’s role in helping expedite the complicated adoption.
“Whatever I wanted to do, we did it,” quipped Marissa Fraley. “My brother and sister were not so interested in doing many things, but I was, and my parents allowed me to participate in anything I wanted. And they videoed everything we did.”
From cheerleading, gymnastics lessons, ice skating lessons, dance studio lessons to participating in beauty pageants, the Aracoma Story play production, and girls high school softball, Larissa was involved in many things while growing up, thanks to her adopted parents. In one of the first Logan Banner color photographs in 1996, Larissa is shown on the front page with fellow students Elizabeth Houck and Chalise Conley during a Dance Studio recital at Southern West Virginia Community College.
Despite her husband, Matt, working fulltime as a coal miner, being an EMT volunteer and 20-year retired volunteer firefighter, and herself working daily as a domestic violence specialist for the Tug Valley Recovery Shelter of southern West Virginia, the Fraley children are allowed the same freedoms of choice as was Larissa while growing up.
“I don’t really tell them no to anything,” Larissa explained. “If they want to get involved in something, they can.”
The Fraleys have three children — Hayden, 16, Connor, 13, and Adelyn, 6 — and all are active in some form of extracurricular activity. Hayden is a baseball fanatic and was a member of the 2019 Man Little League state champion runner-up team and was a centerfielder last year on the Tootie Carter-coached Man Middle School squad that won the Black Diamond Championship, featuring teams from Logan, Chapmanville, Madison, Sherman, Hamlin and Duval. Larissa was even the dugout scorekeeper for Coach Carter’s successful squad.
Hayden’s younger brother, Connor, is an aspiring middle school basketball player at Man, while his sister, Adalyn (Addy), participates in pageants, dance classes and gymnastics. “If they want to do it, we will let them do it. That’s the way I was treated,” said Larissa. “If they don’t want to, that’s fine, too.”
The sacrifices made by the Marsh family in creating a promising life for three originally unrelated Korean born children are vast. For instance, due to a medical problem called hemangioma, which existed on Larissa’s lip, Mrs. Marsh made three trips to a California doctor before the medical issue was resolved. Larrisa’s younger sister, Anna, endured even more severe medical issues, all of which the Marshes handled while still providing a good home life for the threesome.
For each child adopted, the Marsh family paid for the airplane tickets for the children and the orphanage translator, who accompanied the kids each time. “I don’t know what it cost them, but I think it was a lot,” Larissa said with a smile. She was three months old when she reached the airport in Washington D.C. It was there her parents retrieved each of the children at different times.
“I was five years old when we went to the airport in 1992 to get my youngest sister on Christmas Eve,” Larissa recalled. “I remember coming home that same night.”
During this same time period, there were other Logan Countians who adopted children from Korea. Those children include April Frye and T.K. Lombardo of Logan, and Sarah Wandling, whose parents lived at Chapmanville.
Despite Linda Marsh educating her children about their place of birth and its rich history, Larissa says she really never gives Korea much thought. “I wouldn’t mind visiting there someday,” she said. “But I’m just Larissa from Buffalo Creek.”
Her brother Charlie is a successful critical care paramedic in South Carolina, while younger sister Anna works in Man and resides at Amherstdale with her father, who continues to work at Ellis Supply at Kistler.
“My dad is 71 and has worked for over 50 years at the same place,” said the girl some folks at the Logan Courthouse have dubbed as Santa’s “Sassy Elf.” “He has never worked anywhere else. Not too many other people can say that.”
In typical stereotype fashion, sometimes when the Fraleys go out for dinner or to some other public function, someone will inevitably ask Larissa something like, “So, where are you from?” “Where’s your homeplace?”
“It’s a little aggravating,” Larissa says, “but I just look at them and say, ‘Buffalo Creek.’” “I’m just another girl from Buffalo Creek, that’s all.”
Well, perhaps that’s true, but for at least one person who dreamed of loving and raising children she could call her own, Larissa and her siblings are more than just somebody from Buffalo Creek.
Indeed, from all accounts, Larissa, it is clearly obvious that for the late Linda Marsh, — you, along with Charlie and Anna — were much more than just “kids” from Buffalo Creek. Whether you know it or not, you likely were answers to her unwritten prayers.
As we prepare to celebrate the reason for the season, I somehow feel the presence of a blessed angel within our midst.
And she is smiling.
Merry Christmas to all.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.