While clearing out her office at City Hall, shredding old files and loading up the pictures and mementos of her eight years as Rainelle’s mayor, Andy Pendleton sat down amid the packing boxes for a telephone interview.
She described her feelings at the moment as “bittersweet.” “Not bitter, really, more sorrowful,” she said. Pendleton’s decision not to run for office for the fifth time was not an easy one. But the sweetness is there, she said, with the new team of city council members and also the new “young” mayor, Jason Smith, whose write-in candidacy won 140 to 102 over Doris Vandall.
Pendleton reflected that the time is rapidly approaching when she “just won’t be going to work” anymore. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine Rainelle without Andrea “Andy” Pendleton’s energetic enthusiasm and commitment as mayor. This is a mayor whose hand print is firmly embedded in the history of this corner of Greenbrier County. Standing five foot two inches, Pendleton’s approach to the job is to go right to work, often with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, “to show people you’re will to do the work yourself.” And pretty soon, someone would take up the shovel and help out.
“All these years I’ve been a ‘weak mayor,’ she said. The term is used to refer to a mayor with no formal authority outside the council. As such, the mayor’ influence is solely based on personality in order to accomplish desired goals. “But I wasn’t a weak mayor by any means,” Pendleton said, laughing. “I do the work.”
In 2011, when Pendleton was first elected mayor, she had two major goals for her town. The first was to establish a safe drinking water system, which came to fruition rather quickly with a $2.7 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The public works project was completed with all new pipes and filtration system that now provides clean water to residents and businesses alike. The costs to the city is $8,000 a month, she said, “for probably the next 30 to 40 years.” But she got it done.
The second priority involved resolving the frequent flooding from the waterways that surround the town, a much harder task, but one Pendleton has not ceased to struggle with. She has described Rainelle on many occasions as a town sitting “in the middle of a bowl,” making flood control a big infrastructure issue. The flooding that began on that June afternoon in 2016 grew dangerous “because the storm drains couldn’t handle that much water,” Pendleton said.
The deadly flood that tore through the state on June 23, 2016 took 15 lives in Greenbrier County alone. The story of Rainelle’s devastation and the mayor’s determination to bring recovery and restoration for her town is what gives her legendary status in Rainelle. In the face of great odds, Pendleton persisted.
“I love my town and I love my people, and so you just got to do it, and feel the reward afterward. It’s what God leads me to do.”
Such is the job in the life of a small town mayor. Some projects get completed while others wait in line, and the longer the delay, the greater the expense. For example, sidewalks for seven streets still await paving since 2012, with a quoted cost at that time of $600,000. And sometimes the auxiliary parts are acquired before the main infrastructure project is completed. “It’s like I get the cart before the horse,” Pendleton says, who was delighted to report she got a bus to deliver tourist visitors to the Meadow River Trail head, but the last five miles of the trail to Rainelle’s trailhead are still unfinished.
Towns like Rainelle are dependent upon grants and foundations to donate funds for municipal projects, for which Pendleton is grateful. Little could have been done for Rainelle, she stated, without the generous help from the Payton Foundation, the Hamilton Foundation, Dr. Kell’s Foundation, FEMA, numerous faith-based organizations, including Mennonite Disaster Service, Southern Baptists and Appalachia Service Project (ASP) and Walter Crouch, the USDA, and departed grant consultant Doug Hylton, whose constant support for Rainelle she said was “golden.”
Pendleton offers her thanks to the people of Rainelle, her city administration, her family and husband, Randy. She also mentioned special assistant Joan Browning as a person Pendleton is especially grateful for. “She would do anything to get things done. She is the best.”
The mayor hopes to formally extend her thanks to all who helped make her years as mayor of Rainelle a success during a Ceremony of Appreciation on Saturday, June 29, at noon, during the Down on the Farm event at the Rainelle Town Park.
“I hope the town of Rainelle will make every effort to work together as a better community with the new mayor and city council for a better tomorrow,” Pendleton said.
As she packs up her mementos, Pendleton says she is willing to try to adjust to having time on her hands which she’ll put to spending with her family. Her boundless energy makes it difficult to accept slowing down. She admits she’s looking forward to working toward building a community center that will serve as a museum of Rainelle’s history as the one-time world’s largest lumber mill and a visitors guide of the Meadow River Trail. Almost $70,000 has been raised so far for the structure. The lumber mill reminds her of a quote from John Raine, the town co-founder, and now the motto of Rainelle: “This is a town built to carry on.” Doubtless, Andy Pendleton will continue to do just that.