They came from far and wide, just like always ...
Music makers (L to R) "Tube Check" Parsons,
Woodrow Whytsell and
Dink Duskey heads for those cooked on the wood fried taters
Jim Bell's fried fish is always a hit
Marvin and Peggy Whytsell Stemple keep the famous reunion going
By Bob Weaver
It was the first Whytsell reunion in 25 years without Blanche, difficult to imagine
after all these years.
It went on under the supervision of her daughter Peggy Stemple and Blanche's
husband Randall (not to exclude Peggy's husband Marvin), with piles of fried
potatoes in iron skillets, cooked to perfection on the fireplace.
Blanche, before she died earlier this year, left explicit directions, details, with
Peggy about carryin' on with the reunion, including the potato fryin'.
The two large tables with A to Z country fixins', one for the reunion feast and
the other for desserts, was an attention getter.
Guests also selected Jim Bell's popular fried fish and horseradish
pickles. Someone ask Jim, "what kind of fish are they?" He said "dead." They're
actually caught in Canadian waters, by Jim and his buddy Duck Stevens.
Randall always had fun kidding the attendees with Blanche standing nearby,
saying "I worked real hard on these delicious dishes this year."
The reunion is held on the lower West Fork between long gone Rocksdale and
Richardson, at the Whytsell Park. The park, situated in a grove at the mouth of
a holler, was created by Peggy's 4-H endeavors back in the 1950s.
Randall and brother Woodrow, known musically as the "Whytsell Boys." sang
their annual version of the well-known local tune "My West Fork Valley Home."
It is likely that virtually every person in the park thought about Blanche.
Randall's friends, some of the area's mountain music makers, went to the
stage to pick and sing throughout the afternoon, a customary event.
The photo albums of life from Joker and Hur to Rocksdale and Richardson
attracts lots of folks, and many look at the "Whytsell Reunion Album" to
discover the faces of dozens and dozens of folks who faithfully attended the
event, but have now gone on.
Visitors bring their plastic jugs to fill with water from the cool, free-flowing Hart
spring, named for Civil War renegade Nancy Hart, whose family once lived
Visitors bring chairs and visit under the shade trees most of the afternoon. It
was a beautiful reunion day and things went along just like dear Blanche would
The Whytsell's came from the Shenandoah Valley to Lewis and Braxton
counties, settling in Calhoun during the Civil War, marrying into the Lynchs,
Andersons and Starchers, among other early families up and down the
Randall's dad and mom, Edwin and Rettie Starcher Whytsell, were fixtures on
the lower Fork for much of the last century, their home established in 1922
above the Village of Richardson.
All Calhoun reunions have great food and atmosphere, but many of them seem
to be fading as a generational gap for such things seems to be happening.
Not so, at least yet, with this reunion, which welcomes not only family
members but all their friends from far and wide.
Riley Keaton samples the cool water from the Hart Spring
Old picture albums attracts lots of visitors
Peggy Whytsell Stemple (far right) visits with cousins
(L to R) Norma
McCoy Kemp and Dottie Roach Williams
Music makers fill the stage throughout afternoon
Another horseradish pickle lover dips in (far left)
with lots of folks
enjoying reunion meal
Victor Whytsell, one of the Whytsell Boys, still lives down on the Fork
94-year-old Glen McCoy, former Calhoun school bus driver,
husband of the late Lizzie Whytsell, Randall's sister
REMEMBERING BLANCHE: A TASTE OF HOME (1921-2004)
Under People, Humor
Blanche - Whytsell Reunion, 2003
By Bob Weaver
Blanche Whytsell may be best remembered for her biscuits, pies, cakes and
country cooking, an art she shared with almost every activity in the
community. From baking biscuits for the Molasses Festival to preparing food
for families during special occasions, she would always deliver.
She took her cooking skills to a higher level, becoming a contributing editor of
a national food magazine "A Taste of Home."
Last year she and Randall were the Molasses Festival King and Queen.
Others will remember the frequent phone calls to remind them of the upcoming
Whytsell Reunion, which started years ago as a family affair but grew and grew
to include most everyone up and down the West Fork and parts unknown.
"You don't have to be a Whytsell to be there," she said.
She and Randall looked forward to the event every year at the Whytsell Park, a
short distance from their home on the lower Fork between long-gone
Rocksdale and long-gone Richardson. She had been the postmistress to the
last Richardson post office.
Randall has memorialized the place with his composition "My West Fork Valley
Home," which he and his brother Woodrow have picked and sung publicly
hundreds of times.
"They'll miss mom's potatoes," said daughter Peggy Whytsell Stemple, fried on
the wood fireplace. Peggy said her mom requested a few more flowers planted
at the park for future reunions. "I had clear instructions to keep the reunion
going," she said.
Recalling my lifetime with Blanche, whose family has been part of my family
ever since I can remember, is one of dedication to work, family and
community. She showed up and helped, not only supporting her only child
Peggy in dozens of youthful endeavors, but devoting time to 4-H, church and
I've always felt she would be there, because she always has been.
She was a strong, work-hardy and dedicated soul who, along with Randall,
loved to garden and enjoyed their country roots and family history.
My mother Myrtle and her sister Thelma, rode to work with Blanche to the old
sweater factory in Spencer for many years, usually cutting through the hills up
bumpy Henry's Fork.
My mother and Thelma would become disgusted with Blanche because she
never complained. My mom always had lots of aches and pains. They said
"Blanche never has a headache. There's surely something wrong with her."
Peggy said she had little wrong health-wise during her lifetime, until last fall at
the reunion when she began to have back problems. By Thanksgiving she had
started going to the hospital.
She came home in late Winter, tired of being hospitalized, to spend her last
days with her family and friends.
She quietly quit breathing yesterday.
Perhaps, most sadly with Blanche's passing, is a recognition of the fading
families that once dotted the landscape along the lower West Fork of the Little
Kanawha River, to be replaced by empty fields and woods.
Waiting for a future time, far distant, when a few souls will once again dig
deep and create their special place, a West Fork Valley home.