By Peggy Mackenzie
The Fall edition 2019 of WV Living Magazine unveiled the sixth annual Wonder Women of West Virginia featuring Appalachian women who bring the mountain spirit to everything they do.
WV Living describes them as “The movers and shakers, the makers, the can-doers and glass ceiling-breakers, from founding businesses and advancing the arts to upholding the law and lending a helping hand – and they do so without a golden lasso of truth or bulletproof bracelets.”
Among these notables from across the state are three from Greenbrier County. Adrienne Biesemeyer, Jennifer “Tootie” Jones and Andrea “Andy” Pendleton were honored for contributing to the betterment of their respective fields of endeavor. No matter who they are or what they do, together they are building a better state.
When Lewisburg-based pediatric counselor Adrienne Biesemeyer visited South Africa in 1994, the country’s AIDS epidemic had become worldwide news. Realizing her activities as an American traveling in the country had insulated her from that news, she determined to learn more about Africa and help others gain awareness. She and her daughter Rachel founded the Anir Foundation in 1997 to organize trips to give travelers greater cultural understanding of African nations while participating in Habitat for Humanity builds and other volunteer work programs that give direct, personal experience to the communities they visit.
Biesemeyer later joined the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2008 where, as director of International Studies, she created a program giving third- and fourth-year medical students one-month rotations in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Tanzania, as well as another program allowing rising second-year students to work with doctors in the country. In May 2019 Biesemeyer retired from the osteopathic school and is now focused on Anir full time, providing similar programs to other colleges, medical schools, private organizations, and individuals.
Jennifer “Tootie” Jones is an advocate for the positive impact agriculture and food production can have in West Virginia. In the ’90s, she revitalized her grandparents’ Greenbrier Valley property into Swift Level Farm. She brought back the cattle that once roamed the hills and raised them to produce grass-finished beef. In 2017, she opened Swift Level Fine Meats in an outlet in Fairlea to retail local meats and prepared foods. In only two years since then, the shop has expanded its team, added fresh seafood, and increased its offerings of cured and smoked meats. Some of Jones’s customers travel two hours distance to purchase her quality food products. But nothing beats the mornings when she wakes up on the farm, close to the homes where her children and grandchildren live. Jones’s recipe for success is, “When times get challenging, remember the strongest thing we can do in the world is to give and be generous.”
Andrea “Andy” Pendleton grew up learning to respect and accommodate people when she worked in her family’s discount stores across Rainelle. Through volunteer work, Pendleton saw a need for more leadership in town and after being unanimously selected by her community, Mayor Pendleton became the town’s first female mayor in 2011.
Becoming mayor came with serious challenges. Rainelle was hit hard by the derecho in 2012 and severe flooding in 2016. But Pendleton’s hard-working charisma embodied Rainelle’s motto: “A town built to carry on.” She went right to work cleaning up debris and helping her constituents get back to life as they knew it. “Just do it, and get it done. That’s all I’ve ever known,” says Pendleton.
After working with Appalachia Service Project for new housing and cleaning up the town’s signage, Mayor Pendleton decided early this year it’s time for her to retire and get back to her family. In July 2019, Governor Jim Justice named her a Distinguished West Virginian, one of many honors Pendleton has received in her public life.