Tragedy follows Rebuilding Rainelle’s ‘first home’

Russ Gilkerson
Russ Gilkerson
Russ and Becky Gilkerson’s new home, located on the same lot that still contains their former home, ruined in the June 23 flood that decimated Rainelle. It is the first of possibly 50 houses that Appalachia Service Project (ASP) hopes to construct as part of the “Rebuilding Rainelle” project.
Russ and Becky Gilkerson’s new home, located on the same lot that still contains their former home, ruined in the June 23 flood that decimated Rainelle. It is the first of possibly 50 houses that Appalachia Service Project (ASP) hopes to construct as part of the “Rebuilding Rainelle” project.

On Friday, Oct. 14, before a gathering of about 100 people – including the Greenbrier West High School football team, cheerleaders, band and color guard – Russ and Becky Gilkeson were presented with the keys to their new home by Rainelle Mayor Andrea “Andy” Pendleton and Walter Crouch, president and CEO of Appalachia Service Project (ASP). It was the first new home to be built in West Virginia for a flood victim.

“I feel blessed,” Russ Gilkerson had said at the dedication.

The Gilkeson’s home was built through Rebuilding Rainelle – ASP’s long-term recovery effort to help rebuild the community of Rainelle, after June’s deadly flood. The Gilkesons lost their home and all of their possessions like so many in Greenbrier County. This was the first of up to 50 new homes that ASP will build for families devastated by the flooding in June.

But a tragedy came only two days after Russ and Becky got their home. Russ Gilkeson, known as “Coach G,” died suddenly on Sunday.

“It was the last news I thought I’d ever hear,” said Crouch. “We’ve all lost a friend and the effect on the community and the high school is going to be profound.”

Gilkeson was a fixture in the local community. He had been the head trainer for the Greenbrier West High School football team since 1991 and served since the early ‘80s as an assistant trainer with the team.

Gilkeson also coached volleyball at Greenbrier West for many years until he retired a few years ago. He also taught at Rainelle Junior High, Rupert Junior High, and Greenbrier West High School. He was known and beloved by all. His home was the first to be finished in the Rebuild Rainelle project because of his standing in the community, and Crouch said they knew he would be a tremendous spokesman for the work they are doing.

Greenbrier West football coach Lew McClung said, “We had a short team meeting this morning and I told them what happened. I think a lot of them were just like us, kind of in shock and several were upset.”

Plans are in the works to honor Gilkeson at this Friday night’s Greenbrier West football game. McClung said they haven’t finalized how they will honor the beloved coach, but assures it will be done in some way.

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“Rainelle was washed away on June 23 by a flood,” said a tearful Pendleton at the gathering on Friday, Oct. 14, to dedicate the Gilkerson’s new home. “Today is a new beginning. Rainelle is Noah’s Ark.”

The flood – one of the worst in state history – destroyed over 1,000 homes statewide, including 90 percent of the homes near Rainelle’s downtown area. Five people in Rainelle did not survive.

Many of Rainelle’s low-income homeowners are unable to rebuild their homes because they have no insurance, are unable to qualify for emergency loans and have few personal resources. These families are the focus of ASP’s longer term recovery efforts through Rebuilding Rainelle, according to Crouch.

“No mortgages are involved,” said Crouch. “It’s a fresh start for those in need and allows us to reach families without regard to their credit history or income level.”

Many partners helped make the Gilkeson home possible through their support of Rebuilding Rainelle. Partners include Mullican Flooring, Grace Meadows Church, Munsey United Methodist Church, and BedInABox.com, United Way of the Greenbrier Valley, Homes for West Virginia, Window World of Beckley, The Potomac Highlands Fuller Center, Schewels and the Cales Family Foundation. The Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises (FAHE), of which ASP is a member, has contributed funding to the effort, and Solid Rock Carpenters in Chicago built and shipped three complete sets of walls.

Volunteer groups including students from West Virginia University, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech’s ASP College Service Project, along with churches and groups from Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Illinois and North Carolina, who have come to help rebuild Rainelle. ASP has also partnered with two other volunteer groups, Christian Aid Ministries and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, to help with Rebuilding Rainelle.

Families impacted by the flooding in Rainelle can apply to ASP for consideration. Visit www.asphome.org/apply and click the “apply for home repair online” button (fastest method), or pick up an application at the Rainelle Town Hall or Red Star Lumber. Filling out an application does not guarantee selection and additional applicant requirements are required. ASP will determine with a home assessment whether or not repairs or a new home is needed. ASP requires owners of new homes to attend financial literacy and homeownership courses, Crouch said, to prepare them for a successful future in their new home.

For more information or to make a cash or in-kind donation to support “Rebuilding Rainelle,” call David Kelley at 423-607-1156 or visit www.ASPhome.org/donate.

 

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