|INTRODUCTION: Don Yoak was a Calhoun native and long-time Democrat and political activist. His reputation in his later years was that of being a "Senior Citizen Activist."|
Yoak, a longtime resident of Roane County, had the ability to raise the ire of bureaucrats and politicians, leaving few people wondering where he stood on any issue.
He was a one term member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and served in other positions in the Legislature for over 60 years. He was always active in community issues.
He died in 2004.
The following column was written about Don, who in later years looked very much like the "finger lickin' good," chicken guy. - Bob Weaver
By Bob Kelly
Daily Mail Political Editor
Published Sept. 16, 2003
Kelly is a weekly columnist for the DAILY MAIL and can be accessed under Hur Herald Links.
Gertie Knight owned the only radio for miles around in the hills outside Grantsville
Don Yoak lived on a nearby farm with his parents and eight brothers and sisters.
Yoak recalls hearing one of Herbert Hoover's speeches on Gertie's radio.
"Mother thought it was important so she took us over there to hear the president," said Yoak, 82, who now lives in Spencer. "I'm not sure what the occasion was. If it was his inauguration, that would have been 1929."
In the 74 years since, Yoak has heard thousands of politicians, mostly of the West Virginia variety, utter millions of words.
He believes no one today compares with the spellbinding orators of old, ticking off Rush Holt of Weston, Ralph Bean of Moorefield, William Flannery of Man, J. Hornor Davis of Charleston and Joe Albright of Parkersburg.
"Then there was Bob Byrd," Yoak said. "In my opinion, he's the greatest of them all, and it showed way back in his first legislative session (1947-48). There was a buzz in the halls beforehand when it was time for Byrd to give a biggie."
"Byrd was among very few US Senators who did not seek wealth," he said.
Yoak went to work in the legislature in 1941, the year after he and 138 other seniors graduated in Calhoun County High School's largest class ever. His uncle, Sen. L.J. Morris of Grantsville, got him the job.
"I was called his attaché," Yoak said. "Each legislator was allowed to have one."
He read proofs and delivered journals for $8 a day. Room and board in a Quarrier Street residence cost $3. "That left a pile of money to take back home," he said.
It was better than the money he had earned all the way through high school, carrying two quarts of milk on the bus to sell to Grantsville customers.
In later years, Yoak served as House sergeant-at-arms, head doorkeeper and supervisor of the journal room. He worked at 30 sessions over a span of 55 years. "I've been in every governor's office going back to Matthew Mansfield Neely," he said.
Arch Moore fired him from his state road post in 1969 but Yoak doesn't hold a grudge."To the victor goes the spoils," he said.
In 1952, Yoak won election to the House from Calhoun County. In those days, every county was guaranteed at least one delegate. "That was a fairer system than what we have now," he said.
The Board of Public Works was the budgetary authority when Yoak was a rookie. He's proud that he prevailed on Secretary of State Joe Burdette to go along with the first appropriations of $1,500 each for North Bend and Cedar Creek state parks.
Yoak also sided with Democratic Gov. William C. Marland at a turning point in state history, Alas, West Virginia took the wrong turn, with the mostly Democratic legislature rejecting Marland's sensible proposal for a hefty tax on coal, oil and gas. A quarter-century passed before legislators finally saw the wisdom of severance tax.
"I was defeated by 40 votes in the 1954 primary," Yoak said. "My support for the severance tax might have been the difference."
The legislative salary was $500 a year during Yoak's first and only term. There was no expense allowance for meals and lodging, but legislators collected 10 cents a mile for one trip to and from Charleston each session.
"They have computers on every desk now, but I'm not sure they're everything they're cracked up to be," Yoak said. "It would seem that you would miss some of the personal contact and give-and-take.
"Then again, even though there was a lot of arguing and great debate on the floor when I served, much of it was for show. The deals were worked out the night before at the Daniel Boone Hotel.
In the 1940s Yoak helped to build pipelines in West Virginia and out west. He and his brother owned successful GE Appliance stores in Grantsville and Spencer for many years. When jay Rockefeller succeeded Moore in 1977, Yoak returned to his state road job
The House chamber was eight years old when he started work there and discovered an eternal truth.
"When the state tries to do everything possible for the citizens, the state must impose exorbitant taxes," he said. "That's pretty much where we are in West Virginia today."
See DON YOAK HONORED POSTHUMOUSLY FOR CIVIC CONTRIBUTIONS