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Clyde Beal: Enjoying the senior years by staying active

September 24, 2018

Courtesy of Clyde Beal George McKinney recounts his years growing up, fixing cars and dancing to life's tunes.

George McKinney believes his adult years have been kind to him because of his childhood experiences. Growing up in Fayette County he discovered early on if you wanted something, you worked for it. If you couldn’t afford it, you improvised or you just did without. He also developed a few slogans that have helped guide his daily life through the years. “All of us together are smarter than each of us.” Another one of his favorites is: “You can’t corner a man who talks in circles.” Those thoughts plus treating others fairly, being honest in your dealings and delivering on your promise have served him well.

“I was born in a small farmhouse in 1943 located on 6 acres in Robson, West Virginia,” said McKinney. “I was 9 years old before we got electricity, and it changed our lives for the better, especially my mother’s. Dad built the home from trees on our property that were cut into lumber at a nearby sawmill. He was a farmer at heart who subsidized his income by repairing train track for the N&W Railway. My sister was seven years older; I practically grew up alone. We had a few chickens and a dog that mostly just ate and slept. I had firewood to cut, water to carry from the well and a garden to work. I’d also haul coal for heating from a nearby abandoned coal mine but I still managed to find time to have some fun.”

One of McKinney’s annual projects, with the help of a few neighborhood boys, was rebuilding the dam at Loup Creek for swimming. The water would have been deep enough for diving except for a certain extra-large rock in the diving area. Around the summer of 1955 the boys decided the rock had to go before rebuilding their dam again. They chiseled three deep holes in that rock and somehow managed to “procure” three sticks of dynamite and electric blasting caps. They wired it all together and connected the battery from a safe distance. The earth shook, mud flew, leaves and small pieces of rock flew all around them. When the smoke cleared, they discovered their diving area had become the deepest part of the creek for miles in both directions.

“Some of my other more normal childhood activities would be the eighth-grade bus trip to Camden Park,” said McKinney. “I loved the flying airplane ride more than the roller coaster. I also liked visits to Rock Lake Pool in South Charleston too. It was much more entertaining than Loup Creek. They had a large slicky slide and ropes that you could swing on out over the pool. I did have a .22 rifle single shot. Never enjoyed hunting very much, but I have ‘killed’ dozens of Prince Albert Tobacco cans.”

Another one of McKinney’s enterprising feats was converting his Shelby “Flying Cloud” Bicycle into his version of a Whizzer motorized bicycle.

“I couldn’t afford a Whizzer,” said McKinney. “A neighbor gave me an old broken lawn mower engine that I rebuilt and rigged up to work on my bike, it served me well for a couple of years before I outgrew bicycles.”

McKinney had the privilege of riding the bus to Beard Fork Elementary where grades 1-8 were taught. A school equipped with indoor plumbing, modern heating and water fountains. He would never know the joy of sharing a drinking cup with the entire class or learning around a potbelly stove. He did learn about the tragedy of death and how fragile life is when he learned his fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Allen, had been killed in an automobile accident.

“I remember to this day how caring and gentle Ms. Allen was with everyone in the class,” said McKinney.

“High school was an 11-mile bus ride to Montgomery High School,” he said. “I didn’t play sports because I didn’t have time. I liked all my teachers, none as well as Ms. Allen. I did like English and literature. By the time I entered the 12th grade, I had fixed up a 1955 Mercury sedan to drive to school. I drove it for nearly two years until I sold what was left after I wrecked it. I graduated from high school in 1962. By the time I started college I had bought a used 1958 Edsel. Most people said the front grille looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.”

McKinney said many of the kids from high school would hang out at the Varsity Grille. It was also a favorite for students from West Virginia Tech. The result was constant rubs between the two schools, mostly over girls.

“After high school I enrolled in West Virginia Tech to study electrical engineering,” said McKinney. “I graduated in 1967 and was hired at the South Charleston FMC Ordnance Plant. At the time they were building armored personnel carriers and other types of military vehicles that were being shipped to Vietnam. I worked there for nearly three years. After I left the Ordnance Plant, I went to work for United Fuel, the name later changed to Columbia Gas. I stayed with them for 31 years. I retired as a senior compression engineer. After that I was hired by Augusta Engineering in South Charleston, where I stayed over five years. Today I do part-time consulting work for utilities and various corporation groups in industry.”

The senior years haven’t slowed McKinney yet. In fact it’s the seniors he’s interesting in helping. Along with his wife, Rosa, they belong to the Silver Haired Legislature, the statewide group that lobbies the West Virginia Legislature to enact policies that make life better for seniors, especially those with limited income, such as funding transportation for seniors to medical appointments.

“I also enjoy working on and driving old cars,” said McKinney. “I’ve a 1972 original Cadillac convertible and a 1975 Oldsmobile convertible with a newer engine to help it get down the road a little better.”

And finally, just to make sure this couple stays active, they belong to a senior dance group in the Teays Valley area, where George performs additional duties as the official master of ceremonies. He is known by all the regulars as having the style and voice of Wolfman Jack. They dance to music from the 1950s. That’s where the best sounds still live.

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