Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Randy Tremba

June 23, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 2 Episode 6
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Randy Tremba
Show Notes Transcript

Original intro/outro music: 
"'Till I See Stars" by The Parachute Brigade

John F. Kennedy:

The sun does not always shine in West Virginia but the people always do and I'm delighted to be here.

Brandon Dennison:

These are historic times in Appalachia. A lot has changed. A lot is changing now, and a lot still needs to change. In our podcast we talk with change makers right square in the middle of all of this, working to ensure the change is for the good. You're listening to Change in the Coalfields, a podcast by Coalfield Development. I'm your host, Brandon Dennison. My name is Brandon Dennison. I'm the CEO of Coalfield development. This is the Change in the Coalfields podcast brought to you from the Marshall University iCenter podcast studio. And this week is really special. Because longtime pastor of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) is our guest, Pastor Randy Tremba. Randy was my pastor during my time in Shepherdstown, five of the best years of my life, Randy has really been a mentor for me, spiritual, personal and professional mentor for me. I've learned so much from him over the years. And now I get a chance to to learn even more from him. Randy, thanks for your time today.

Randy Tremba:

Oh, you're welcome. Thanks. Thanks for chatting with me. And I am honored that you consider me a mentor. I can always say if I did nothing else in life, but mentor Brandon Dennison, that would have been worth it. But when I met you, you pretty much had the convictions and visions for your life, I think the best thing I did was did no harm.

Brandon Dennison:

You know, it's funny, I was not even thinking about that. But yeah, the first time we met, of course, I came to Shepherdstown as a freshman. I grew up in a Presbyterian Church. So I thought I'll check out the Presbyterian Church nearby. Your sermon really grabbed my attention as having some some new ideas, some new approaches to church I hadn't heard before. So I rode my bike over to your office hours. And you were willing to talk with me for more than an hour. You'd never met me, in my life, we had a great conversation. And a couple of weeks later, you called and said, 'You know, we don't have a youth director right now. So I wonder if you'd be willing to help out with our youth program?' And [you] were willing to just put a lot of faith and trust in me. And that led to truly some of the best experiences of my life, Randy.

Randy Tremba:

I'm glad to hear that. I guess that was one of the better decisions I made. I kind of pride myself in getting a good impression of people when I meet them. And I saw right away you had the qualities we were looking for, to influence our youth and give it some some direction. You struck me right away as being a person passionately interested in the environment. Wilderness, preserving, preserving nature and deep roots within our faith. So and you were winsome, articulate, I'll stop there.

Brandon Dennison:

My head, my head won't fit in these earphones anymore. So you were the pastor at SPC for 42 years? Is that right?

Randy Tremba:

That's right, I started in 1975 and retired five years ago, in 2017.

Brandon Dennison:

Is that common for a minister to stay in one place for so long?

Randy Tremba:

No, I think the average is probably five to seven years. Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church was founded in 1743. So some of my successors were there for 20 years and one, Dr. Gleeson was there for 44 years. Once I got to 30, I started thinking about that record, and I thought, well, there's a record I could break. I'll just keep going. I'll be known as the the Ironman of the Presbyterian Church, the Cal Ripken of the Presbyterian Church. But once it got to 42 I thought that was enough. My ministry bridged two centuries, from the 20th century to the 21st century and a millennium. So that's something my predecessor could never say, Dr. Gleeson, so I said, 'Let the old man have the record. I'm done.' And I was ready to leave, I felt I was leaving behind a great healthy community and felt proud of having a lot of people help build that community. And it continues to this day, not only surviving but thriving, despite everything.

Brandon Dennison:

What's what's been going on in retirement.

Randy Tremba:

Well, first day of my retirement, I just sat down in a chair and thought I'd get used to vegetating. And that got old it was such a relief not to have multiple things coming me at once. You know, you got weddings, you got funerals. You got marriage issues showing up and then meetings after meetings, after meetings, a sermon preparation. I loved it all and never thought I was under stress until the day I retired, I felt this weight go off my back. So vegetating wasn't the way to go into retirement. I had figured to do something and a friend of mine, Bill Howard, he said you're a good writer, you need to keep writing and people want to hear from you. So he helped me set up a blog site, which I started in 2019, and called The Devil's Gift. So every every Sunday, I publish a dispatched call or little essays, always, I just decided never be more than 400 words. And I've kept kept to that a lot of them are exactly 400 words. So I work on that every week, I work on my post. And it's usually about something that's I find remarkable or something that gets under my skin. So it's great, great variety, and that I now have about 420 subscribers.

Brandon Dennison:

I'm one of them.

Randy Tremba:

To the blog to the blog site. And in addition to that, I'm working on a book that's been on the back of my mind probably for for 20 years. So in the mornings, I do writing either the blog or on the book in the afternoon, I live in eight acres of woods, which I treated as wallpaper for the longest time, once I retired, I noticed it. Said, 'Wow we live in eight acres, and it needs some stewardship, some management.' So every afternoon, weather permitting, I go out and do some maintenance in the woods and my grandchildren helped me build a nature trail about a mile long weaving through the woods. And that takes some maintenance too.

Brandon Dennison:

Two things, anybody who who knows Randy, two define defining elements of your personality, in my opinion, one is succinctness and timeliness. So you ran a service that ran, you prided yourself going right on time went one or two minutes over you were you were disappointed. Yeah, and then facetiousness, I would say, I think that's the right word. I feel like you're sometimes you'd like to be purposely challenging and thought provoking and the name of your blog alone. So a former minister has a blog called The Devil's Gift. Tell us a little bit about the thinking that goes into the branding there?

Randy Tremba:

After I retired, somebody asked me to write an essay on what I was doing in my retirement for the local, good newspaper. And so I reminisced about where I learned to write, and guess I was inspired in high school. But I never ever thought of myself as a writer, even though I did a lot of writing, I wrote a sermon every week. And so I imagined myself in retirement, being in a cave, my cave, and I imagined, the devil showing up, and the devil said to me, 'I'm so glad you're in this cave, doing nothing. Because when you're out there, in the arena, preaching peace, love, justice and understanding. I hated it. That drove me crazy. I'm glad you're not doing that anymore. I'm glad you're not letting your little light shine anymore.' And then the devil left. But he left a gift. That little light that I had, that didn't know I had, I was gonna let it shine. So at the time, I didn't associate that with a blog. But by the time I got around to making a blog, I thought, well, that's pretty good. The devil gave me a gift. So I called it the Devil's Gift and ran that title by a few people. And they thought it's kind of they thought it was unique.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, definitely.

Randy Tremba:

So I stuck with that and the more you think about the devil is considered and in mythology as the Trickster kind of challenges us. It shows up in the story of the Garden of Eden, and the serpent, which represented the devil later on, urges her to reach for knowledge and understanding. So she, she does my take on that story. She's the hero. I mean, Erich Fromm, a Jewish psychologist, also agrees he thinks Christianity misread that story, she's the hero, because he really creates what human beings are all about going for knowledge, our reach will always be reaching for more knowledge, so she ends up being the hero, the hero in that story, in my opinion, that's part of my book I'm writing. And the devil shows up when Jesus is out on his vision quest. And challenges to define who he is, and what he's going to be like, so without the devil, you know, we might not figure out what we want in our life. So I know there's a dark satanic side to the devil, but there's also this trickster side, that helps us figure out who we are by raising sometimes nagging questions. He said to Eve, 'Did God really say that? I think God doesn't want you to have these powers.' And he says that Jesus, 'Can you turn these stones into bread?' Jesus thinks through that, because that would be a good thing to feed the hungry people the world. And so Jesus has to mull that over and says, 'Well, human beings can't live on bread alone, you didn't know that.' All those things gave me a favorable impression of the devil. So I embraced it, the Devil's Gift.

Brandon Dennison:

That's it's provoked thought it's provocative, for sure and unique. Absolutely. So you mentioned High School, sort of getting the bug for high school. So tell us about where you grew up and your childhood?

Randy Tremba:

I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. I had a older sister, four years older, brother, eight years older, and my father worked on the railroad, P&L Railway, as a brakeman, and my mother was a housewife. She loved it, you know, keeping the house clean preparing meals. And then I went to grade school, there a block away, got to walk. I was thinking back on that the other day, it was integrated, and they didn't know it was integrated, because I didn't know what segregation was. So that was a blessing, you know, to walk to grade school that was integrated, even though I didn't appreciate that fact that to walk two blocks to junior high, called Princeton, junior high, and then about six blocks to go to high school. And my parents were both hard workers. My father grew up outside of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, his father was a coal miner, who emigrated from Prussia.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow, interesting.

Randy Tremba:

We have a paper that was preserved by the family. He came United States with a document signed by King Wilhelm of Prussia, releasing him as a subject that you will no longer be a subject, so he came here became a citizen and raised a family and worked in the mine. So life my family was, I guess you don't know what a middle class is probably on the lower side of the middle class, we didn't have a TV or a television, never had a television when I was even through high school, and only got a car when I was 12. My dad took the bus to work. My mom eventually went to work as a shoe clerk at Strauss Department Store. She took the bus to work. And she only went to work because she wanted her her children, I of the three was the one most interested in higher education, so she she went to work to make that possible. Yeah, working class family. I didn't you know, now sort of the butt of a joke, sometimes, Youngstown, but it was a really great community, very ethnically diverse. Four or five steel mills, lots of trains going through there, and Youngstown State University is there and Mill Creek Park. So, you know, you take for granted where you grew up, and you go back, you realize, Wow, this was a great place to grow up. Glad I did.

Brandon Dennison:

You grew up with a lot of baseball, right?

Randy Tremba:

My dad was a semi-professional baseball player. You know, eastern Pennsylvania produces a lot of great baseball players, they play it all the time. So yeah, my dad taught me to love baseball. Back when I was eight years old, I went to try out for the little league. And we didn't have a car. So my brother, Jerry rode me on his Schwinn bicycle, about five miles to the tryouts and we were late. So the the adult running the thing, said 'I'm sorry you're late, come back next year,' my brother said, 'I just drove rode him five miles, you give him a try out!' My brother had a temper, he could get angry. So the guy said, 'Oh, okay, go out there and I'll hit you a fly ball.' I missed the first one, caught the second one he came in. He said, 'Well, that wasn't too bad, come back next year. What's your we'll take your name?' And I said, 'Randy Tremba.' And he said, 'What are you Michael Tremba's, son?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'You're on the team.' Because again, I didn't know this, my dad was highly, highly admired by people for his baseball, his baseball skill. So yeah, my dad taught me to love baseball, for sure. And all that goes with that, you know, the discipline of being an athlete work, teamwork. So I'm really grateful for that introduction, to baseball that he gave me.

Brandon Dennison:

You mentioned your grandfather, one of my favorite of all your blogs was about his story. And you sort of later in life uncovered some, some more background on him that you didn't know for a long time, right?

Randy Tremba:

It was only about a year ago. My cousin I reconnected, Johnny Tremba, grew up in Connellsville. His father stayed in Connersville, so my cousin John. He's my age, he went to Penn [State] in Philadelphia. And then we reconnected and I started asking questions about the family. He's kind of the keeper of the family memories. And he was telling me these things and I said, 'I'd like to come up and see where my grandfather is buried. I've never seen that.' So, Paula and I and our daughter Amanda, we went up about last fall. And he took us to the mine area where my grandfather worked. My father never worked in the mine, but his older brothers did. My father was the youngest one of the youngest of the eight. He had done some research on my grandfather's death. His name was Jacob, and he worked in the coal mines. He refused to live in company housing. The company houses were very popular. He went through that, and the miners were paid in scripts, which they could only use at the company store. My grandfather Jacob refused, he demand to be paid in dollars. So that indicates, I never met had him obviously, but indicates he had a feisty spirit,

Brandon Dennison:

Agitator.

Randy Tremba:

Agitator and not surprisingly, he was he was one of several that were trying to organize coal miners into a union.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow.

Randy Tremba:

And he got a lot of grief from from management for that he had an accident, broke his hip had to go home. And he healed and he came back, and the second or third day he he came back he was, well, he was cheered by the men when he came back. And then the second or third day, he got deathly sick, and he died within a day or two. And they determined it was because he was poisoned by the water he drank on the floor of the mine. That's what the that's what the owners claimed. And everybody who knows any miner who has worked in the mind.

Brandon Dennison:

Right?

Randy Tremba:

Know they don't drink water, the bottom of the mind, he took his own water. And so you connect the dots because of his reputation of trying to organize a union. The conclusion is that he was murdered, he was poisoned, and got out of the way yeah that was my grandfatherJacob, so yeah, a lot of me, I'm very proud to be the grandson of a coal miner. I mean, they really fueled this country for about 250 years. So those coal miners and I think I put in that blog, I think our nation owes a debt of gratitude. To the coal miners, obviously, we got to move away to other sources of energy. But there should be a major monument in Washington, D.C., to coal miners, in gratitude for the way they fueled this country and made it what it is today because of their heart and really sacrificial work as much as any military man. I mean, they gave their lives, many of them to make, to fuel this country to heat it, to move it to energize it. So yeah, that's my that's my grandfather. I'm quite proud to be a grandson of such a man.

Brandon Dennison:

Extraordinary, amazing story. I, you know, the company town script, efforts to unionize the coal industry. I'm sort of shocked when I traveled to different conferences and convenings of very socially active people in our country do not know that history. A lot of it, I guess, is probably been purposely sort of whitewashed out of the textbooks, but we've got to tell those stories and understand it.

Randy Tremba:

Well, yeah, I think, historically, Unions is what really created the middle class. Because they were they paid a high price for it, I mean, goon squads were sent out to kill them, many of them. But they eventually won and got, you know, safer working environments and better wages and benefits. And, and pensions. So yeah, the, the union is a big part of our story of success in the United States, and what my take away is, what, that's how you get things done, is by associating with other people, whether it's a union or a cooperation, like you're doing a Coalfields, you got to get people to cooperate with each other for a common goal, because there's strength in multitudes. And basically, that's what a Union is. But there's other other ways of cooperating and getting things done doesn't have to be a formal Union. But definitely my understanding of how people get things done is through cooperation as much as possible.

Brandon Dennison:

So you started on the western edge of Appalachia. You know, the Appalachian Regional Commission, technically considers Youngstown to be in the Appalachian Region on the very western edge of it, and Shepherdstown in Jefferson County is the very eastern and one of the most eastern counties in what the federal government calls Appalachia. Now, there's a lot of different definitions of Appalachia, but give us the long version of the story. How'd you how'd you get? What was your journey from the western edge of Appalachia as a kid playing baseball in Youngstown, grandson of a coal miner to the eastern edge to be the pastor of the oldest church in West Virginia?

Randy Tremba:

Is it the oldest?

Brandon Dennison:

I think so. I haven't heard of any one that's older. Yes.

Randy Tremba:

1743 is pretty, pretty old. I think it is maybe in West Virginia, at least a Presbyterian Church.

Brandon Dennison:

Oldest Presbyterian one.

Randy Tremba:

Yeah. Well, you know, the Scotts Irish settled this, this region. When I when I was about to graduate from high school, my father, who was a devout born again, fundamentalist Christian, didn't trust higher education. My mother who only had an eighth grade education, she grew up in Georgia. She admired cultured people, so she always wanted her children to do two things. One, three things. One, learn how to play the piano, because she thought all cultured people play the piano. Two, she wanted us to have clean fingernails, because she knew that poor people in Georgia had dirty fingernails and my dad had clean fingernails, that's one reason she married him. And third, get an education, she thought that was the ticket. My dad, my mother heard about Wheaton College in Illinois, which was a Christian Liberal Arts College. And as my dad heard the word liberal, he wanted nothing to do with it. He didn't like the word liberal anywhere, so but my mother won that battle, and I went off to Wheaton College and Evangelical liberal arts college got a, I think, a good education, and it moved me from fundamentalism into becoming an Evangelical. And after four years, I graduated with a Philosophy Major and had no idea what to do with that, and my advisor said, 'Well, you can go to seminary and read theology, it's similar.' So I went to Pasadena for Theological Seminary to read Theology only to find out you're supposed to be a Minister when you go to Seminary. So I said, 'Really, I didn't read the small print.' So I wasn't opposed to that, and I interviewed to be a youth director in a Baptist Church. I grew up Baptist and the Baptist minister wasn't impressed with me, he wouldn't hire me. So I panicked, and I looked on the job board, there was a Presbyterian Church open in Whittier looking for somebody, and I found them to be much more flexible, more intellectual, this worldly compared to fundamentalism, which can be otherworldly. You know what I mean? Like this, like this earth is a launching pad to get to heaven. But Presbyterianism, John Calvin, really embraced the earth this life, and I liked that and I thought their approach to the Bible was more metaphorical than literal. So I got ordained in the Presbyterian Church, but I didn't like Southern California. I don't, there's no weather in Southern California, just climate. And I missed the seasons. And I finished up my work at the Presbyterian Church in Whittier, and actually got disenchanted with institutional Christianity and decided I try something else. I wanted to be near my parents in Youngstown, but not too close. So I accidentally drove through Harpers Ferry one day on my way to see them. I said, 'Wow, Harpers Ferry, Potomac, Shenandoah Rivers that come together, there's little mountains. There must be hobbits in these hills.' I had just finished reading Tolkien's, The Hobbits. And I said 'There must be hobbits, I've never seen a place like this.' So I just rented a room, drove off the road, found a room and decided I would work in the apple orchards and just changed my life around. So I worked in the apple orchards and was content to do that, although I was trying to organize the workers to get higher wages.

Brandon Dennison:

It's in your blood.

Randy Tremba:

Just couldn't, couldn't help myself, and I worked for Cesar Chavez in California. So these guys are family men, guys, with kids but they were family men making $1.25 an hour to support a family. And I thought we could get organized and get higher wages. In the meantime, I met the Presbyterian Minister in Shepherdstown. We became friends. He was young, but he suddenly resigned, and he told the session on the way out the door. He said, 'If you need somebody to preach, there's a guy in the orchard, who is a licensed Presbyterian minister, call him.' And they did and I said 'No, I don't want anything to do with the church right now.

Brandon Dennison:

Total John the Baptist vibe going on here.

Randy Tremba:

I was out pruning, pruning trees. So they call me and I said 'No, not really.' So they said, 'What just how about just this Sunday?' I said, 'Well, I'll I can do a service I'll preach until you find a real minister.' And then I fell in love with the congregation and they with me, and the rest is history. They called me to be the full time minister. And I got over my disenchantment with the church because it was such a small church, a lovely community, and I just felt at home there and decided that is where I would raise my family.

Brandon Dennison:

You mentioned how beautiful Harpers Ferry is, I know you like to quot, there's a rock that Thomas Jefferson visited and looked out over the rivers converging in the hills and said, 'This was worth a journey across the Atlantic.' Is that right?

Randy Tremba:

Yeah, there's a plaque up there that actually says that.

Brandon Dennison:

When you came to visit me at Coalfield Development, we had a great trip I took you to all these amazing projects. I was so proud to show you all these different sites. We drove all over southern West Virginia on the last day I took you to Hillbilly Hotdogs. And of the entire trip, I think that made the biggest impact and you said, 'This is worth the drive across the state to eat at hillbilly hotdogs.'

Randy Tremba:

I wrote a blog about thar. I don't know if you did ever send that to you. You did yeah. Called, 'Hillbilly Hotdogs, a love story.' And I tell the story about how those I don't know the owners but I did some research and found out how they fell in love and they were living out west I think and they came back home and opened up Hillbilly hot dogs.

Brandon Dennison:

That's right. People get married there.

Randy Tremba:

People do get married they right? They have one of the one of their hotdogs called the Widowmaker.

Brandon Dennison:

I don't think you were brave enough to try that. I don't think Paula would let you try that one. No way. You sort of threw in there. And I had heard this before you you did some organizing work with Cesar Chavez?

Randy Tremba:

I wasn't a key player, but in Southern California, that was the era, 1970, boycott grapes, table grapes, and lettuce and a good friend of mine was very active with the United Farm Workers. And he, he convinced me to help out. So I went out on some of their demonstrations and went out to the lettuce fields, and one of their planned demonstrations at about five in the morning. I never and I did get to see and meet him. Actually, he stayed in the house, about five families shared a house, and he and his wife came and stayed in the house where we lived. But it just so happens. I went to a Joan Baez concert that night, so I missed them.

Brandon Dennison:

Oh, man. You said you fell in love with the congregation. And they with you. And it's it's a remarkable congregation. And it's really defined, I think, by just a deep commitment. I think you said this-worldly. That resonated with me a commitment to social justice, environmental justice...

Randy Tremba:

Racial justice.

Brandon Dennison:

Racial justice, yeah.

Randy Tremba:

Gender justice. Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

What is it about that place? And maybe could you share some stories about that congregation that have inspired you?

Randy Tremba:

Well, when I came there, I found out that that church was organized in 1743. That's before the United States of America. And the building, the meeting house was built in 1836. That's before the Civil War. So that's a real for America, that's a real historical place.

Brandon Dennison:

Right.

Randy Tremba:

During the Battle of Antietam, it served as a hospital and many wounded and dying, mostly Confederates probably came and laid on they took the pews and lay them on the floor, and many young men died, there some recovered and left. And when I heard that story, I thought this is a very special holy place, that the men of the children, the sons of our nation lay there dying, and probably their dying breath was for peace. You know, I urge the congregation to realize they're standing on holy ground every time they come in there, and that we should be a house of prayer for peace, and that we should be a school of love. I think Shepherdstown also has NSDA inclusivity, in the sense that Thomas Shepard, the namesake of the town was an Englishman, and the nearby town Charlestown was very English and stayed English. And they could, the English could be very snooty at that time, but Thomas Shepard encouraged Germans to come down from Pennsylvania. And at that time, that was kind of bold, to integrate with English and Germans coming together to work, you wanted them to work. But I always tell people that I think that idea of inclusivity was in Shepard's founding, as part of our DNA. And sure enough, back in the 60s, Shepherdstown became a safe haven for gay and lesbian people. Just the word got out, you'll be safe here, you'll be welcomed, so they were welcoming. And this all happened before, before I came, so there was quite a few gays and lesbians in Shepherdstown some members of their church. And that became a very controversial issue in the Presbyterian well in all churches in America, and the Presbyterian Church debated back and forth, back and forth, whether you should even ordain a gay person, let alone, let them marry. So that that became the primary focus of our congregation probably for 20 years to advocate for change in the Presbyterian Church, to allow gays and lesbians to serve as elders and deacons and ministers. And that took forever. And we hadn't even got to the marriage part yet. Suddenly, in 2014, the circuit court in Virginia, which embraces part of West Virginia, declared same sex marriage legal. And two of my members, Rob and Richard, they've been together for 30 years, not married, but as a civil blessing. That was a thing back in the 60s you could have a civil blessing. So soon as it was legalized first time, did they they went to Martinsburg, West Virginia, to the clerk's office to Apply for a Marriage License and they went in with fear and trepidation of how they would be greeted by a West Virginia official. Right. And the woman was so thrilled that they were they're so honored that she got to submit give them a marriage license. They were bowled over. This is why you can't stereotype people, you can't stereotype West Virginians, mountaineers are free and I think they're saying free love who you want. So she gave them the license. They were so touched by her, well they invited to the wedding at the Presbyterian Church is packed. And part of the ceremony, I stopped and said we'd like the clerk from Martinsburg, West Virginia courthouse to stand up. And Rod and Richard said why they had invited her and she stood up and people applauded. So amazing. Yeah. So, you know, environmental issues, something we dealt with, and I drew on Presbyterian theology, which John Calvin is famous for saying, 'The earth is the theater of God's glory.' And the earth should be revered. So that that gives sort of gives you a basis for to care for the earth not to exploit it, right. And part of my studies, I realized that the whole idea of dominion in Genesis was misconstrued by theologians. And Christianity took that as a right to dominate creation to exploit it, to treat creation as our food pantry. It turns out, if you take the Bible seriously the way John Calvin, did not necessarily literally, Calvin took the Bible seriously, but not literally. Dominion is a trust from a king to care for part of his realm. So that's what dominion historically means, and so I built on that I thought that was a profound insight, and I built on that saying, we do have dominion, but that doesn't. That's not a right. That's a responsibility to care for it and not exploit it. Because you have we have an obligation to treat it in such a way that will bring honor to the King who gave that to us. So I think you were there when we installed the first solar panels. I think in Shepherdstown on the church?

Brandon Dennison:

I had I had moved on, but that's the beginning of a beautiful story. You know, it's cool that Dan Conant was on the podcast two episodes ago, and talking also about how influential Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church was in his story, and we just missed each other. I had left to go to graduate school in Indiana, Dan had moved back to start the solar company, but Thanh and Marianne, congregants, wonderful congregants, congregants of SPC made sure that we met and were so impressed by Dan through that project, and it helped to lead to what would become Solar Holler.

Randy Tremba:

That's right. Yeah. And Dan had, really pushed that and thought we could be a model for other organizations, and not only residential, but organizations, institutions. And numerous people came to check it out, how we did that and how we financed it, and so yeah, that that was a great, great thing. But it was all made possible, I think, by a congregation that had come to realize the Earth is our responsibility to care for not not to exploit. And so what are the practical things you can do and shifting to solar energy and wind energy away from petrol energy is the way to go, incrementally at least.

Brandon Dennison:

It's amazing, isn't it?

Randy Tremba:

You just drive everywhere you drive down to Huntington, you see him everywhere you see windmills down there in the southern part of the state. So yeah, I think we're moving in the right direction. But change, cultural changes come very, very slowly. Because cultures have such momentum and weight. We just can't turn them on a dime. You just got to go inch by inch row by row. And eventually you got a beautiful garden growing, but you got to start with the inch.

Brandon Dennison:

And it takes collaboration to your earlier point to change things. You got to have other collaborators, agitators and you, you've preached many a great sermon, you've facilitated a great congregation, weddings, funerals, all the rest. But you also helped you worked with other ministers on a newspaper, you had a Radio Hour. You just became a full member of the Shepherdstown community, right?

Randy Tremba:

Well, I have a lot of ideas. I can't do them. So I have to get other people to do them for me. Yeah, I thought Shepherdstown should have a newspaper, because it didn't have any. But I wasn't prepared to do a newspaper just for like a tabloid, and we with Ed Zahniser as a co founder of it, back in 1979, called The Good Shepherd, Good town, Good news, Paper, and I was the Executive Editor. It wasn't a newspaper. We made sure there was a gap between news and paper, had called the People Magazine of Shepherdstown. We did just did stories on people. And there were some essays and poetry in it. 24 pages, and it went for about 40 years and then a convergence of circumstances made it difficult to continue. So it was it was discontinued, I think in a 40 year run. I resigned like two years before it ended that had nothing to do with it. We had a new Executive Editor and a bunch of volunteers. Volunteers really made it work, it was free we gave it away for free. In fact, that was a slogan I came up with free but not cheap. And people love that and they think I made it up and actually got it from Dietrich Braun. Dietrich Braun offered a German theologian pacifist who was killed by because he tried to help assassinate Hitler. He said, 'God's grace is free but not cheap.' And I always liked that. People think I made that up. Free, but not cheap. The Rumsey Radio Hour had nothing to do with the ministerial associate. Yeah, the ministerial association were the publishers of the Good Shepherd Good Town Newspaper. I just had this brainstorm back in the mid 80s. That would be fun to do an old fashioned radio show friend of mine, Ken Bethany was a disc jockey. And we were just chewing the fat in the back yard. And I said, 'Why don't we do an old fashioned radio, you know, script sound effects.' And he said, 'Oh, great idea.' We put something together. And the first and it was called the almost almost heaven radio show of the air. That was my title. And the first show we had Miss West Virginia who was a Shepherd University students.

Brandon Dennison:

Okay.

Randy Tremba:

I thought, How funny is this to have beauty beauty on the radio. So after we interviewed her, my little tagline, whatever you do, don't miss West Virginia, Miss West Virginia. Yeah, but but we had we had music. And it was, it was a joke that it was a radio show, we really didn't have a radio station. We just pretended we did, but so many people liked and heard about it and missed it. We decided to repeat it, and we got Reynolds Hall in Shepherd University because I did not want it to be associated with the church. I didn't need another church thing. I thought this would be like a little hobby, something I could do away from the church. So we started producing about once a month, a 90 minute show and eventually got about 16 or 17 radio stations. We would do live, it was called live to tape, just what Steve Colbert does, by the way live to tape. So you tape it like like it's live, and then you send the tape to the stations. That was a lot of fun. It was kind of a, I think was 60 minutes long was a knock off on Prairie Home Companion. I said it was a better show because Prairie Home Companion requires a commitment. It's two hours long. This is only an hour. So that's where I got my fixation on the importance of time.

Brandon Dennison:

I said at the beginning, anybody who knows Randy. He's succinct and on time.

Randy Tremba:

Yeah, when you're on the radio show, you got everything's got to be precise, and that's where I also learned involved children, start involving children. And a lot of the stuff I started doing on the radio show, I said, 'I should bring some of these things into the church service. You know, church service, doesn't have to be boring, it should be doesn't have to be entertained. It should be entertaining on one level or engaging. And it should incorporate children.' So I started working children into leadership roles. Another thing I came to learn is that most human beings don't want to be consumers, they want to be producers. And that's a hard thing to learn when you're a leader, that people want to be part of the production, not just consume what you have to offer. And so that that kind of a shift in paradigm for me, kids could tell where the action was, it was up front. So I developed this rotation so that every age group got a leadership role every single Sunday, I was very pleased how that turned out. Kids have grown up now remember that. They used to name three nations and bless them at the globe. I think you remember that?

Brandon Dennison:

I do.

Randy Tremba:

And one of the school teachers said I don't know what what they're doing at the Presbyterian Church but all these kids pass geography test better than anybody else.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, it was great they would do three countries and then you do, they bless plant and an animal.

Randy Tremba:

You could pick an animal yeah, we got the list from the United Nations. So he did like all the nations eventually they and I give them an advanced, the nations. And when systematically by continents, after became more environmentally conscious, I thought the kids should also think about the the natural world an animal or plant that they want to bless. So they worked on that at home and they came in they announced and some some of them are kind of funny, what they would come up with. So we bless the nations and and we would end by saying God bless all of these nations and all creatures great and small.

Brandon Dennison:

We're coming up on time, and I'd like to just ask you my question that I ask all my guests, which is, 'What are some of the biggest changes you've seen happen in Appalachia during your time and what are some of the biggest changes you've not seen yet, but you still hope to see soon?'

Randy Tremba:

I've been here since 1975. In the eastern panhandle. I've seen health care, grow immensely, government installations grow immensely. Senator Robert Byrd, may he rest in peace, somehow managed to get the Coast Guard headquarters in Kernersville, West Virginia. Who would have thought that? So I've seen a lot of growth. Yes, somebody said, 'When Bruce I heard that there was going to be a space station he wanted it in West Virginia.' Bird brought brought a lot of changes to Shepherdstown. The National Park Service is here, Harpers Ferry now has some homeland security facility it was it was named differently, got the name changed. So I've seen that here, I've seen the growth of tourism and our conscious effort to develop the economy of West Virginia around tourism. And I think the Eastern Panhandle bought into that very quickly. But when I came down to see you, they were talking about having those ATV sports parks down there. We just we just went to Wheeling and they're trying to rebuild some of these parts of Wheeling. And so I think this effort to publicize West Virginia as America's best kept secret is the way to go. So I've seen tourism increasing and more and more towns are having festivals. Shepherdstown certainly has a street festival and I've heard other towns in West Virginia having those multiple ways my granddaughter's from New Mexico, they love going down to Weston to the insane asylum. They want to go back and the night and Moundsville has a penitentiary there's it's beautiful the way the way they had been built. So there's all of that in the river stuff, promote. So that's what I hope is happening. Tourism's being promoted, you know, I've seen a lot of change, by just coming down to see you. I don't get out of the Eastern Panhandle very often, but coming down to see you and see the changes there. How former, sons and daughters of coal miners have now accepted a new paradigm for the economy, and that is solar energy rehabilitating old buildings. What you're doing great, bringing back mountaintop removal, barren spots are now flourishing in the desert of roses blooming. This is all kinds of Biblical stuff to bring. It's it's really the creation mandate is to bring life out of death light out of darkness and order out of chaos. And that's to me, that's the human vocation is wherever you are, in whatever world you are trying to make it more beautiful, more whole more loving, kind, and I see that going down there at Coalfied. Working from the ground up as the way to go, I know Eleanor Roosevelt build Arthur Ville didn't she? From the top down, I think you need both and, you know, whatever it takes addition not subtraction. So keep doing that. So I think the increase in tourism, the shift to solar panels, you see them everywhere up here, and when I drive to Morgantown, or down to see you, I see more of those and wind mills, so that's encouraging. I think we're, I think that, well, I'd like to see less people leaving. I haven't seen them leaving up here, you know, they're pouring into the eastern panhandle.

Brandon Dennison:

It's a bit of a different perspective on population.

Randy Tremba:

Yeah, I mean, it's it's just developments developments everywhere. Yeah, my hope is that we will really maximise on the tourist potential, and also maximize the efforts you're doing down there and other people for alternative forms of energy. And, and to, like you've done to be understanding of the plight of coal miners and their children. And, and to appreciate what the coal miners have done for this country, and don't disparage them whatsoever, and be sympathetic with their anxieties about where the jobs are coming from. Education, that's always a good thing, education and give people reasons to live. I think I referenced Jesus said, 'You can't live by bread alone.' Which I take to mean, you can't live on money alone. Of course, you can't live for very long without either.

Brandon Dennison:

Realistically, yeah.

Randy Tremba:

But the whole point is, and some of my liberal friends always complain about West Virginians, and other relatively poor people who vote against their economic interests all the time. They say, 'I can't believe these people are so stupid that they're, they're voting for candidates that aren't going to help them out economically and financially. They're going to lose money, not make money.' And I had to remind my liberal friends, I said, you know, there's actually people who value things higher than money. Money isn't everything, maybe it is to you. But there are a lot of people that would be happy to make less money if they could feel pride about who they are and what they're doing. So I think this is a false god in the in the liberal aspects of our politics is that money is going to solve everything that underestimates what human beings are about. People want to feel proud of their other work, proud of their country, and if there's a candidate that will help them feel proud, they're going to support that. I won't get into details but I think you've seen how important that is to people. We just value things differently. And so I respect that about Appalachian people as much as money is important to them, I think they have come to show the rest of us that there's other things more important than money. You can have very little money, but you can have a good family. You'd be proud of what you're doing and what you've accomplished.

Brandon Dennison:

Great perspective.

Randy Tremba:

Yeah. I wish I had a pulpit, I might, I might start preaching here.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, man. 42 years. Certain habits develop. Randy, you you've truly you've been a blessing to me and a mentor, and I learned from you every time we engage, and I get encouragement from you. And now later in life, you're just a good friend. And, and you're also happened to be a fine storyteller. So this has been a treat for me and it will be for our listeners, and I appreciate your time today.

Randy Tremba:

Well, thanks. Thanks again for including me. I'll be able to see you one of these days.

Brandon Dennison:

Come on down, open invitation.

Randy Tremba:

So be ready.

Brandon Dennison:

All right, Randy. Thanks so much.

Randy Tremba:

God bless.

Brandon Dennison:

Change in the Coalfields is a podcast created by Coalfield Development in the hills and hollers of West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia, become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website, Coalfield-development.org, to make a donation. You can email us anytime at info@Coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn by searching Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.