Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Larry Castle

August 11, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 2 Episode 10
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Larry Castle
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. Welcome, everybody to Change in the Coalfields, a podcast by Coalfield Development. My name is Brandon, I'm your host. This is a podcast hosted by Coalfield Development. And I really can't think of anybody better to talk to on a podcast about cultural development, than Mr. Larry Castle, Larry's very good friend. And Larry is the founding board chair of the Board of Directors at Coalfield Development. And we started out in the summer of 2010, with $25 in the bank, and trying to get other people to talk him into having to be on the board. And Larry, you believed in me and you believed in the vision of this organization. And and your leadership has really gotten us where we are and I just can't thank you enough.

Larry Castle:

Well, thank you, Brandon. It's been a pleasure for me, sitting and watching the growth of Coalfield and all the things that it's accomplished over the years. It's just been a tremendous experience. Now I was retired when I came on board with Coalfield, you know, used to it was me and you and I think you said, 'I'd like to be executive director,' and I said, 'Okay.' And I think that's, that's how it started out. But it's, it's amazing what you've done with Coalfield. I've always liked you. We had you know, as an intern, summer intern, and you did really well. And we were...

Brandon Dennison:

I was the intern for the Housing Authority.

Larry Castle:

The housing authority. Yes. And that's where It's sort of counterintuitive. Coalfield came from, was out of the housing authority. And then when you came back, you had graduated, and we hired you to But I like you, I jumped in at jumped at the opportunity to be work full time for the housing authority. And we wanted you to be the executive director of the housing authority. But you had other things in mind that we didn't really understand at the time. I know, when you came out and said, you know, you wanted to start a nonprofit, it was kind of like, okay, you know, and wasn't, wasn't really accepted real quick. And I remember Tim, Tim Kinsey, he's a good friend and a good friend of yours. He said, 'The kid's just got a job that pays now he's wanting to do something that don't pay anything.' on the board. And that was the first member and I'm, I'm glad I was, you know, everything went really slow for a while.

Brandon Dennison:

Slow start.

Larry Castle:

And yeah, you went for what, two years without any pay? And you got a little bit of a part time job with the EDA to pay, I guess, pay the gas bills. But it's been it's been a wonderful experience. You already had this figured out, I didn't know that at the time, you had already been contemplating how to do this. And you had a plan in mind. And I remember, we started out with low income housing, that was the thing, you know, it was a selling thing to start with. And then it wasn't the too long of that you came up with have employees and training them. And you said, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'I don't know. Yeah, I don't know the work or not, but we can try it and see how it goes.' And from there, it just went skyrocketed.

Brandon Dennison:

But you were willing to try which counts for a lot.

Larry Castle:

Absolutely. You know, we're talking about agreeing and disagreeing. At times. We've not always agreed. But when we talk about it, we agree. Yeah. You know...

Brandon Dennison:

There is always a deep respect for one another.

Larry Castle:

Oh, sure. I had confidence and faith in you. I mean, I really, really did. I thought you knew what you were talking about. I thought you did a really good job. And it was your passion and your ideas that made Cofield today, as far as what it is today, and oh, my goodness. How would you describe going from zero to where we're at now? And I'm not really up on where we're at now, but it's a tremendous expansion.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, it I mean, I would say at this point, it's sort of already exceeded, you know, the original goals and would have had, but folks would be surprised. I mean, the early days there, we would we would have called board meeting. Only you and I would show up sometimes, you know, yes, we do the financial report and be really straightforward. Because it was such a small amount of money. Right. And I mean, it could not have started any more grassroots than it did to be totally honest.

Larry Castle:

Yeah, we'd have a board member that would come to one meeting and not come back. And you know, and people Yeah, I'll be on the board and then not show up.

Brandon Dennison:

I think both of us we stuck with it, though, because we knew the need. For true economic development.

Larry Castle:

Right.

Brandon Dennison:

Was was so intense. And so we had a passion for that. And we stuck with it. And I think a lot of the your passion comes from you were born and raised in the southern part of Wayne County, you understand? You understand these issues. Can you tell folks about what it was like growing up and in Wayne

Larry Castle:

I'm a throwback I, I was raised in a home about 20 County? acres, small subsistence farm my parents did menial jobs, restaurants, labor, State Road, you know, those type things. Used to be when the Republicans were in my dad worked on State Road when the Democrats would win he didn't, it used to be that way, you know, but we just lived out of the garden a lot. We had a milk cow and chickens and pigs, you know, kill every year and we didn't have any running water. We had an outdoor toilet. And then that's the way I was raised. But, you know, my mom and dad wanted me to be raised in Fort Gay and I wanted to be raised in Fort Gay and in in the country setting I loved it out in the country. I live very close to where I was raised. I bought the all the land...

Brandon Dennison:

Still today?

Larry Castle:

Yes, today I built a new house and in and bought the land that surrounds my mom and dad's place. So I have a couple hundred acres. And we love it. I have a high tunnel greenhouse, you know, and I still have a garden we can you know, Connie canned 70 quarts of beans last last year and you know, we can tomatoes and beans and have potatoes, corn and you know, stuff out the garden peppers and that type of thing. And we still put it up, you know, we can make jelly and blackberry jelly and all kinds of stuff like that. You know,

Brandon Dennison:

It's good stuff, I've had some of it.

Larry Castle:

And we enjoy that lifestyle.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah. And and even as a kid, I mean, is it fair to say maybe not a lot of financial income, but you had skills you had some land and sounds like y'all were able to take care of yourselves.

Larry Castle:

Well, I remember at times when times were a little harder, you know, my dad would drag in wood and when I got home from school, I got on one end of a crosscut saw and he got on the other and we sawed enough wood up, you know to last us as long as we could we sawed the..

Brandon Dennison:

For firewood?

Larry Castle:

For firewood, yes. We heated with wood and coal and had a we had a woodstove when I was young. And then we got a gas stove or bottle gas stove eventually. But city water was never available. Still not available. You know, we live two and a half miles from downtown. We can't get city water. And well, yeah. Still running a well. Yeah. But it was, you know, I knew that I didn't have all the advantages that everyone else had. But that's okay. I don't I I love my childhood. I was an only child. So I didn't, there was some neighbor kids very close, you know, about a mile down the road or something. I would go occasionally. But basically, I was by myself a lot more with my parents, you know. And one thing my mom didn't she read to me a lot when I was probably old enough to read it myself. But she was still she loved to read and she she would read to me. And I got a lot from that. I didn't do very good in English. But I'm good at English now. Because I've read I've continued to read my whole life.

Brandon Dennison:

Makes up for it, doesn't it?

Larry Castle:

Might not be able to tell you what it is. It just doesn't sound right. Yeah. Yep.

Brandon Dennison:

Did you all did you hunt for food?

Larry Castle:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, we've hunted some not a great deal. We weren't big hunters. But, you know, at the time I was raised there was no turkey and no deer in Wayne County or in this part of West Virginia.

Brandon Dennison:

Really, it's hard to imagine now so DNR is purposely brought that back.

Larry Castle:

That's right. They sure have, I was at Camp Cesar up in West Virginia one year and they they showed bringing the first deer into Wayne County. Wow. They unloaded them from a train.

Brandon Dennison:

That's amazing.

Larry Castle:

They traded turkey for him while Turkey that they caught up in the mountains and they traded him for the deer. And that was a good experience. I when I got in school in high school, you know, I could care less whether I went to school or not when I was younger. But then I got involved in FFA. And I was president for my junior senior year and I traveled around a lot competed a lot in in all the different functions you know parliamentary procedures and I was in speech contests and we did you know land judging and all this kind of stuff we traveled and and we got to go to camp since summertime, like Jackson's meal, you know, and Camp Caesar and I don't remember all the names of them. But that was a very good experience and you learn a lot because they had people there that taught classes and we went to those classes and I was very emphatic. I made a speech and the guy that beat me went on to the region. I came in second place.

Brandon Dennison:

Would this be like a speech competition?

Larry Castle:

Yes, I made a speech. It was about an eight minute speech on conservation and man, let us begin with a workable definition of conservation.

Brandon Dennison:

That's how your speech started?

Larry Castle:

Yes, I was very big into conservation. You know, you hear the green, the green, everything green, with my land and my family, our footprints, probably almost nothing. Because matter of fact, the old time tried to sell me stuff to make carbon dioxide for my greenhouse. So my plants grow better.

Brandon Dennison:

It is interesting, I think, you know, in Appalachia the word green, you know, it gets political. But I think the traditional Appalachian lifestyle of you know, a small subsistence farm is about as sustainable and environmental livelihood you could lead.

Larry Castle:

Yes. Everything you know, everything is used everything you know, you can you can your green beans and then you use them and you can then use a jar the next year, and can them again. Only thing you keep the ring, but you don't keep the seal that will round seals only thing gets thrown away.

Brandon Dennison:

So you have to Fort Gay High School?

Larry Castle:

Yes.

Brandon Dennison:

What have a lot of your classmates, have you stayed in touch with your classmates?

Larry Castle:

Som, yeah, I guess I'm a little bit different. Because you have a class reunion everybody talks about how they love school and how you know, they think back to high school. I you know, I do, and I appreciate everything I got in high school. But the biggest thing I ever did is when I left. Sure, you've heard the song, Reading and Writing and Route 23 been Dwight Yoakam?

Brandon Dennison:

I'm gonna have to look it up Yet that connection, there's very little

Larry Castle:

Reading, writting, Route 23. The jobs that lay waiting in the big city factories. He was raised in Floyd County, Kentucky and his family moved to Columbus, and went back and forth every Friday night. He would come back home economic opportunity. And yet, our people still feel so on weekends. And he wrote that song about a large number of people that did that when I was growing up. There's no jobs in this area. There's no McDonald's, you know. And most people rent are never. connected to that landscape to that place. To that culture. They still come back. We have a family reunion, you know, on Labor Day weekend, and we always get people coming back come home.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah. From far and wide.

Larry Castle:

Yeah. And some of them didn't really live here that long. And some of them not at all. But they still come home.

Brandon Dennison:

They still feel a connection.

Larry Castle:

Yeah. They say that the one thing that all West Virginian's know where they're going to be buried.

Brandon Dennison:

I've heard that too.

Larry Castle:

Yeah, it's true, you know, but when I left, when I left, I went to work the summer, I was too young. I was 17. I couldn't get a real job. So I worked for the Department of Agriculture in Wayne, grading and tomatoes at a tomato program that lasted through the summer. And then after when I turned 18. In August, I went to Ohio, I worked at McDonald's. And then then worked at Westinghouse Electric, made washing machines and worked around the assembly line. And that was...

Brandon Dennison:

Job in the factory.

Larry Castle:

I would I had a jacket, you know, said Fort Gay on it nearby would say 'Hey, how's everything down home?'

Brandon Dennison:

They wanted the updates.

Larry Castle:

Oh, yeah. Everybody I was, you know, everybody talked to me. And I don't I knew several people that worked there that that I had known before, you know, didn't know their work there. But I ran into them up there. And then they had a big layoff they had they sign their contracts.

Brandon Dennison:

What year would this have been?

Larry Castle:

It would have been in 66. Okay, in Christmas of 66. I came home I just gotten laid off. And then I went to

Brandon Dennison:

What did that? Was that your first time ever getting laid off?

Larry Castle:

Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

What did that feel like for you? Do you remember?

Larry Castle:

I had already planned, I had plans to go to electronics school.

Brandon Dennison:

So you weren't worried about it?

Larry Castle:

That didn't bother me at all. I'll tell you one thing though, that happened. When I was looking for a job. First time, I went to Columbus and I went to this company. I don't even remember what the name of it was. And I was just a kid. And I was just looking for a job. And he gave me a hard time said 'Yeah, you know, hilbilies come up here and we hire you and you get a couple of paychecks and you go back home.' That was the farthest thing from my mind. I was just wanting, you know, be successful, get some money, you know, I wanted a job something I could stay with, but during the time that that happened, I worked at Westinghouse and I went to school and I went in the military and and then when somebody interviewed me if they took the wrong step, I was all over them. I had several years to prepare for those questions that I couldn't answer very good to start with because I'd never heard of them before.

Brandon Dennison:

What's the next step? So you came back home that Christmas of 66.

Larry Castle:

I went to electronic school in Ashland, Kentucky and it was probably the forerunner of ACC it was like ACTC or something like that. And it was a two year program. We went 11 months a year and we focused on electronics. We did math, of course Cook's math and electronics and did experiments and theory and all that stuff. And I was pretty well trained when I got out.

Brandon Dennison:

Your parents were supportive of higher ed sounds like they really instilled the value of learning?

Larry Castle:

Well, after I, after I left home, my parents moved to Huntington and got a job with vocational rehab, and worked with people that had been in mental facilities. And they were transitioning from from there, to the outside to living on their own. Now I often wonder, they talk about his homeless people and everything. And, you know, I knew people that mom and dad worked with that. They couldn't function. You know, they would go times they couldn't find anyone to take their medication and then just, you know, and I wonder if that's what all that's going on out there now and with those homeless people and all those places and stuff.

Brandon Dennison:

A mental health crisis.

Larry Castle:

Right, I think it's a mental health crisis. Yes.

Brandon Dennison:

So what happened after electronic school?

Larry Castle:

After electronic school I was one a getting ready to go to Vietnam

Brandon Dennison:

The draft?

Larry Castle:

I went and took my physical for the draft and I passed it and they said, 'Okay, we'll be calling you here in a month or two, well at the time I was working at Beco, a little company in Warner Robins, Georgia. That's I couldn't get a job around here and went to Georgia and got a job and worked on A and F or C 27...

Brandon Dennison:

How did you pick Georgia?

Larry Castle:

I had relatives down there. I worked on AF a and FRC 27 aircraft transceivers rebuilding for the military, and that's what their job was. And so I got my draft notice. And I went and talked to the recruiter in Macon, Georgia. And he said, 'Oh, yeah, you know, I had been to take the test and I made pretty high on the test, and then so, I went and joined and so he sent a letter to the draft board saying I would be in the Air Force before the draft date. And then when he got it back, he just changed it, and I didn't have to go for another couple, two or three weeks. I found how how the government works, but there's no repercussions. I was going anyway, and I ended up there at Miko, there's a guy that came there to work and he had just gotten out of the Air Force. And he said, 'You going in the Air Force?' And I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Here's what you do. You put in for three or four XO radio or you like, you know, quick marine friendlies. You're in communications, you have Tropo, you know, you have a CRC and stuff like that. And put in for southern Spain. I just come back. You'll love it.' And that's exactly what I did. I got in radio relay. And then I got into I got Spain. And me and my wife lived there for three years. And it was a sight. It was downtown. You course you got the extra rations for extra food and stuff like that and lodging. We lived in apartments that were nicer anything we'd ever lived in before. And they were, you know, a lot cheaper than it would be here. While we were there we traveled a lot.

Brandon Dennison:

Did anyone in Spain call you a hillbilly?

Larry Castle:

I don't think they call me he'll be I don't think they knew that term.

Brandon Dennison:

Probably in some ways you got treated better? There than you did here in some cases?

Larry Castle:

Yeah. I mean, yeah. Especially with the girls. Of course, I was I was married. I wasn't doing that. But most of the young guys that went over there for three years that weren't married, got married, while they were there. Beautifu, I mean, the women were beautiful, and then they were very accommodating to Americans, you know. And so that, I guess most of them worked out. I've I have contact with several, one of my best friends I ever had was a Chicano from Divine Texas, and he was married to a Greek girl. And we, you know, we were best friends over there. And our wives got along good, and we spent 10 days with her family and Athens, Greece.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow.

Larry Castle:

And it was her widowed mother, her older brother, his wife, their two daughters and her younger brother that was still living at home. And we can't communicate with any of them. The two little girls were dressed with that thing to ward off the evil eye. And that the grandmother said that the evil eye there's a guy in her village before she moved to Athens that had the evil eye so strong that he cracked a rock.

Brandon Dennison:

Interesting.

Larry Castle:

Yeah, it is interesting, but we saw you know, we saw the Acropolis and saw.

Brandon Dennison:

So growing up at Fort Gay where does the furthest you traveled before you headed to Spain?

Larry Castle:

Mostly Ohio, you know, around Mansfield, Columbus, Ohio, and that area. That's where most of my relatives went to when they left. Yeah, my aunt went to a got a job at the base in Shelby, Ohio. And then they transferred her to Georgia. That's how I got to Georgia.

Brandon Dennison:

You weren't scared to go overseas?

Larry Castle:

No.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, you're easygoing guy.

Larry Castle:

I like just about everybody.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, people person.

Larry Castle:

You know, there's not very many people that I don't like.

Brandon Dennison:

True. I can attest.

Larry Castle:

I give them a hard time. So it's all in fun. I guess the kind of people I don't like or people that think they know it all and you don't know anything. I probably had an advantage at times because you're from you're from West Virginia, you know, you're probably not very smart.

Brandon Dennison:

But they underestimated you.

Larry Castle:

Well, yeah. And you get that. That gives you a little bit of an advantage there. Of course, I'd went to electronics school but when I went through, electronics training at Keesler, Air Force Base, I didn't have time. My mom got a letter that said I was in the top 10% She liked that.

Brandon Dennison:

I'm sure she was proud. Your mom briefed sidetrack was a Rosie the Riveter?

Larry Castle:

Yes. Is that right? Yes. They lived in Baltimore, somewhere around Baltimore and have some pictures of them with their apartment up there and had an aunt and uncle that lived up there. And he worked in an aircraft factory. My mom put those she was on the backside of the rivets is what she told me. She had a little ball peen hammer that she used, she brought home with her. And my dad worked for electric company putting lines in electric lines and stuff. And I had an aunt and uncle that was he was in the army. And they lived not too far from there. So they had the connection, I don't know, probably never went up there on their own, you know, but my mom and dad both ended up getting their GED's. And my mom worked longer for vocational rehab, you know, and she worked with a lot of people there and ended up retiring and...

Brandon Dennison:

Lifelong learners. Lifelong learners.

Larry Castle:

I'll tell you a little story. I have an aunt and uncle. My aunt still lives up here beside me and are close to me. She's 89 years old. But her and her husband didn't finish the eighth grade. Neither one of them. They have two kids that have PhDs. One of them is teaching here at Marshall right now in geology. He retired I think, from Kent State. And he's down here. And then the other woman lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and she has her own business. She's an industrial psychologist. And then they have one that works in Cabell. And she has a degree. And then the other one doesn't. But you know, she was brightest Marshall and the bunch.

Brandon Dennison:

It's funny, it turns out sometimes.

Larry Castle:

But you know, when they grew up, there's no need for education. You know, my grandpa made my mom, my aunt quit school, because women didn't need that much education.

Brandon Dennison:

And just because somebody doesn't have a certain piece of paper, doesn't mean they're not highly intelligent.

Larry Castle:

Not at all. This is, you know, I've been in a lot of places in the world. And it's harder to compete here. Because I think that most people that would have went on and got engineering degrees and stuff they're working on on my technical level, you know, what I mean? Those technicians and stuff. And, yeah, they're pretty sharp.

Brandon Dennison:

So what happened after the military?

Larry Castle:

After the military, I got out, I came back and lived in Huntington for a couple of months and drew unemployment. And I got on at the nickel plant, on the board hired me and in the lab, on a salary paid employee, and I worked for an instrumentation shop up there for about four and a half years, and had a great job loved it. Liked everybody, I had one of those jobs where you cover the whole plant, you know, you go here, there and everywhere, wherever they need you. And you get to know everybody. My first job was changing charts, and they got hundreds of charts. So I worked midnight's by myself, and I would go through the whole plant changing charts, and got to know everybody. And it was it was great. But then you remember the gas, you may not remember that the gas shortage?

Brandon Dennison:

I don't, what like in the 70s?

Larry Castle:

They had, they had gas lines, where I could stand up and walk through and I was thinking, 'Boy, I wonder what this is gonna do for the plant?' Well, the plant didn't do very well after that, you know, they ended up getting sold and the guys lost all their benefits and stuff like that. And but so I hired on a Ashland Chemical. It was a new plant partners in this instrumentation. I was a top I was a senior guy there in instrumentation.

Brandon Dennison:

Did this all still tied to that electronics degree similar skill set. So I mean, you really you were blessed with your education, and then your military experience. Really served you well.

Larry Castle:

It did. Yeah. Yeah. The military. I can't say enough for the military. I didn't want to go. I was the last person to go in the military. But I have to so I went. The Navy said they would take me and get you know, give me E three status. And with that, make sure I learn how to swim. So I didn't go to the Navy.

Brandon Dennison:

Do you know how to swim?

Larry Castle:

No. I've been snorkeling in Adriatic and stuff like that. But I want something there. I don't I can't make it on my own. Yeah, we've had a wonderful life. The the time in Europe. We stayed there. We didn't come home. We you know, my mom said, 'We'll pay your way if you want to come home?' SoI said, 'Mom we'll be home in three years.' You know, but we, you know, we went to Portugal. We went to Morocco. You know. We drove from Slovenia, Spain, southern Spain and into the Thea to Athens, Greece and wept through France. We got through Madrid, you know, in Barcelona and Marseille and Cans.

Brandon Dennison:

How did that travel Larry? I mean, not a lot of people, period get to have an experience like that early in their life. Certainly not a lot of Appalachian folks, have the privilege to get to travel overseas. How do you think that changed you as a person?

Larry Castle:

It made me have more understanding of other people. Yeah, you know, I'm going back to Fort Gay and people that's never been out of Fort Gay are telling me how other people think. And and I don't say anything but I am thinking, 'No, they don't.' That's not the way to think at all. What they perceive it to be is not what it really is.

Brandon Dennison:

And sometimes we just if we've not been exposed, how can we know?

Larry Castle:

I never run into anybody I ever had any problems with in Europe. I mean, everybody was nice and kind. And, you know, I mean?

Brandon Dennison:

Spoke a different language, maybe even had a different religion, different background, but at the end of the day, good kind people, right, just trying to have a good full life. Yeah. So military, good professional experience, good technical education, tough economy in the 70s. And that leads you to Ashland Chemical, yes. And then you get a pretty good long run there, right?

Larry Castle:

I had a run a 30 years. You know, I was there for about 30 years, and I was on the EDA, Harold Hicks economic development. Harold Hicks was a plant manager in me and Harold had a very good relationship. And so he was on economic development. And he said, 'Would you go on economic development for me, in Wayne County?' And I said, 'Sure.' And that's what got me started on economic development. Then they put me on the housing authority, Judy Bourgh was, I think, the one that nominated me. And, you know, Judy was a big supporter of yours. And her husband, Gerald, Gerald was on the Coalfield Board.

Brandon Dennison:

Gerald was the second best board member, we love Gerald. He actually came to the meetings and he, he really forced us to. He was a detail guy, sort of got on my nerves at the time. He wanted every detail, if you if I had something wrong in the minutes, yes, he would correct it. But in the end, I think it was good for us to have a details guy.

Larry Castle:

It's great. He had experience, you know, and everything worked out really well. And then and Gerald was a great guy he was from it was born in Golden, Colorado. But he lived most of his life in Michigan, I believe

Brandon Dennison:

worked for the Chrysler

Larry Castle:

And Judy was Wayne. Yep. She's from Wayne. So they move back here after they retired. And they were wanting to help people out stuff. Gerald passed away after not too many not too long.

Brandon Dennison:

You are about as busy in retirement as you were in the peak of your career?

Larry Castle:

Yeah. We've been through some difficulty. Last couple of years. My wife had breast cancer and she had another surgery before that. Last two years, she's had three surgeries and tumor cancer and I've had in the last year I've had two surgeries and been in hospital four times. But we're in good shape. Right? We're it's the on downhill side. We're getting ready to hit it again.

Brandon Dennison:

You have a beautiful marriage. I do want to give a shout out to Connie and you all used to support one another, steadfastly.

Larry Castle:

We couldn't do the things we do you know, if we didn't and then and we'll be married 55 years in November. She's the love of my life. My high school sweetheart, only girl I ever dated. And I'm very happy. Fifty-five years, gosh. And we you know, we kind of, you know, we support each other like you say, I coached volleyball at Tulsa High School,

Brandon Dennison:

You're famous in Wayne County for as a volleyball coach, Coach Castle.

Larry Castle:

15 years. And then the we started out first year, we didn't win a game I coached with Jamie la Hoda, also me and Jamie and my wife, Connie. And we coached 15 years and in '09, we went to the state tournament. One of the most awesome things for the girls and for me that I'd ever seen. Yeah, we go in and they call the girls names as they run around on on the floor. And I'm already out there me, and Connie rafter. She's at the scores table and I'm standing beside her and watching the girls. And there's, I don't know, eight or 10,000 people there. You know, there are jumping up and hollering and screaming. And there was three games that went on at the same time. And one of them was Spring Valley. So there's all kinds of people there that knew us we played Spring Valley also. They were triple A we were double A and then Buffalo. Putnam played the single A on the other end of the court. But our girls were just awestruck. 100 people was a lot to come to our games.

Brandon Dennison:

You know, I've been with you at events in the community. And I know girls here on your team will still come up to you. Oh, yeah. You know, give you big hug. Ask how you're doing and talk about what a good experience they had.

Larry Castle:

Yeah. And I went after I retired, I laid out a year and then they needed somebody at Fort Gay. So I coached down there for three years. And I coached some of the daughters of the girls that had played for me. That's an experience that was great. Their daughters would complain you know, and they say 'Hey he was a lot harder on me then he is you.' And they just laugh at them. Yeah, but they, yeah, they, it was a very good experience. I think I have good relationships with just about all of them.

Brandon Dennison:

So you. I mean, Larry, you've served on multiple boards, coached, volunteered, I know you're also very active with your church, help your church build a whole new chaple, if I'm not mistaken, served your country in the military. What is it? You got a deep commitment to service? You know, what is it that that created that inside you?

Larry Castle:

I enjoy it. But the thing of it is, I enjoy I think that the people here I understand them pretty well. I'll tell you one thing is like, Coalfield was interviewing a boy, up at Tulsa High School...

Brandon Dennison:

For our 33, six and three programs?

Larry Castle:

Yes, you weren't there. It was me and maybe Ryan is some other people they soon they were looking at his records. And they said, Well, you missed 12 days of school last year. I said, 'He lives on Hampton ridge. Hampton Ridge, you know, you probably couldn't get out of there 12 days out of the winter. It was a bad winter last year.' I mean, you know, there's things like that, that, you know, local knowledge, yes. You can look at that and say, Wow, he didn't go to misses a lot of school. Not when you realize where he lived and how bad the roads are and how less kept up. They are and buses don't run up there.

Brandon Dennison:

That does remind you helped with our interviews. The first crew we ever hired came out of Tulsa High School. Hugh Roberts, the vocational teacher helped us identify our first on the job training crew. And then you've done interviews ever since and one of our favorite. I wonder if you could tell the story of one of our favorite member his name was Jacob. One of our favorite trainees and what's your local knowledge of him and his background and what Coalfield Development has meant for him?

Larry Castle:

Yeah. He was the only one in his family had ever finished high school.

Brandon Dennison:

Not not college...

Larry Castle:

Not college, high school. Yeah. And he was, you know, didn't have I didn't think he had much of a, and his teacher said, you know, said, and you know, if you can hire this guy, and he told me, I knew that, you know, and we did, and he turned out to be great. And that's just like with Coalfield, you can't measure right now, what an effect Cofield has had in this area, because it affects the person that's that gets the training that goes on against their schooling, and their kids and their kids, kids, and it's going to go right on. And at the end, the end result is how many people have has that affected? And Cofield does that every year. And, you know, we we talked about that. If somebody works for Coldfield for a year, and they get a job making $20 an hour and a cabinet maker shop or something like that. That's a completion. That's success. Gosh...

Brandon Dennison:

He's a union carpenter now. But his when he first started he he hardly say a word. I mean, it is interview, you know, he gives sort of, yes, no answers. And that was about it. He just blossomed. Yeah.

Larry Castle:

But just think, how many kids and there's been several I mean, not several its been a bunch of them now. You know, I'm, I think more of the beginning type years. Sure. But we we have, Coalfield has touched so many. You know, that's made a lot for them. Because I know there's people that wouldn't go to Marshall because they're scared. Yeah. You know, if anything, they would go to Southern in Williamson. And rather than going to Marshall, we want we try to start a junior college yet Fort Gay one time. Back years ago, the EDA was Charlie Salmons was one of them that was pushing it. And they threw a fit, you know, so whether it's Marshall territory, you know, but it's a natural draw. Because it's the bridge is there you got the good highways is on the other side. And, you know, it would have been a natural draw for people from Kentucky, south of Fort Gay and north of Fort Gay, they would all come there. Right, you know, for the first first two years or whatever. And it didn't, it didn't go but I think it should have been, I think it was a good idea.

Brandon Dennison:

You know, you've been very involved in local politics.

Larry Castle:

Oh, yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

And of course, this podcast, we're not allowed to endorse candidates. And we won't talk any specific names. But I wonder just West Virginia politics. It's sort of a unique brand of politics, and what have you learned by being involved with some various campaigns?

Larry Castle:

Let me tell you a little story. The plant manager at Ashland Chemical, he was not from here. He was raised in St. Louis, but he had he had worked for Ashland, for years. He'd been outside the country and he's one of the Ashland's top people. I think they ranked him six, Paul Shelburne, I think or something, said he was six or somebody like that. And but he was kind of hard to get along with. And so he wanted to end up being a good guy as plant manager and he didn't know how, he didn't know how to talk to people. Back in the old days, engineers, they worked with things they don't want nothing to do with nobody else. They had ideas, they want to put their little things together. And leave me alone, you know. And that's change some, you know, in the younger engineers have more personal skills. But if you want to really make money, you want to be a plant manager or something like that.

Brandon Dennison:

So you got to figure out people,

Larry Castle:

Yeah, you got to do that. And so he told me one, I mean, knew I was involved in politics. And he said, 'My daughter in law is working on her. She's a principal at a school and she's working on her PhD in education. And her dad tells her who to vote for.' I said, 'That's the way it is.' Families generally stick together in this area, you know.

Brandon Dennison:

Certain people they say, carry votes, right. And that means if you win over one person in a holler, you win over a slew of folks that look to them.

Larry Castle:

Whether it is grandpa or dad, or, you know, they're going to tell you how to vote. And, you know, they're going to know that people now when I started getting involved in politics, I didn't realize this, and I didn't really have a, I had a slate, you know, that I supported, but I didn't really have, like, you know, anyone at any particular person that out really support hard. And people would come to me and said, 'Who do you want me to vote for? I said, 'What you mean?' And he said, 'You know, them guys, I don't know him, you know, you know, whether they're good guys are not just tell me who to vote for.' And that happens. It's amazing how often that happens. They know, I am at the meet the candidates, and I'm talking to all the candidates and stuff like that. And, yeah, I have some favorite ones. And the one is not in politics anymore was Truman Chafin I represented Truman Chafin in Wayne County for several years. And that was an awesome experience.

Brandon Dennison:

I know you were a go to go to man. For Truman for a long time.

Larry Castle:

Right, and I still still have a good relationship with Truman. And we communicate, not as often but few times a year, you know, his wife ran for Supreme Court. She didn't win, but it's probably a good thing. Because right after that, when all those justices got in trouble.

Brandon Dennison:

Mass resignation. Yeah.

Larry Castle:

That was the ones that if she had won, she might have got mixed up in that staff, but she's a great, great lady Truman and Tish are both great people.

Brandon Dennison:

Larry, my my last question to you as we're coming up on time, you know, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen in in southern West Virginia? And then what are some of the changes that you still hope to see some things you think need to change in the future?

Larry Castle:

People do get out more. The guidance counselor's do more. When I went to school guidance counselor didn't do anything. They just had a name, you know, and maybe go over your test scores with you or something, but they don't. The ACT? There was never a prep program. You know, we have a scholarship at WVU. And one of our early...

Brandon Dennison:

Your family sponsors a scholarship.

Larry Castle:

Yes, it's a it's a it's a you know, its for anybody but it's basically financed by my relatives. And we had a girl that made 18, which was a bare minimum to get into WVU. And she got in. Well, we gave her scholarship. She got she was made in English, my straight A's. And she went to pharmacy school and three years, and now she's here, working as a pharmacist in Wayne County. Now, as pretty good. But the people weren't preparing for the test to get into colleges. You know, one of the girls that played volleyball for me, she was a Allstate, Allstate player in volleyball. She was the Player of the Year in basketball. She ended up being the starting point guard at Navy for three years now. She's a pilot, stationed at Pensacola. And this Karen Polandry you know, she was a tremendous athlete, her sisters were too, it's incredible. Yeah, those type of things...

Brandon Dennison:

In some ways, there's more opportunities now.

Larry Castle:

There's a lot more opportunities and people are not as negative. Education used to be, you know, you know, you don't need that to get a job, go to work, you know, go out there and dig the taters. And I love agriculture. You know, I love conservation. I proposed back in the 60s, when they were just I don't know whether Eastland been started or not, but they were talking about Eastland. And I said, you know, you need to put electrical generators.

Brandon Dennison:

Eastland Lake?

Larry Castle:

Eastland Lake, yes, and on there and they said,'Oh, no." I talked to, you know, politicians. I was FFA president. I traveled around the state and I talked to some influential people and they said, 'No, it'll never pay for itself.' My goodness, how many times would...

Brandon Dennison:

If only they would have listened.

Larry Castle:

Yeah, we have the peaking plants, you know, and I knew one of the plant managers down by the water plant in Kenova and went through the plant and they might only operate a few hours a year. They they got a computer that tells them the price of electricity and when it hits a certain level. They cut that plant on. Oh, that can be eight hours away, and cut that plant on. Started running it run eight hours by itself without anybody there.

Brandon Dennison:

It's pretty amazing.

Larry Castle:

It is. Yeah. The main thing we need here is the Highway 72, 73 Interstat. Now I was told recently by a high level politician that that's never going to happen. Because they said they make $2 million a day on the turnpike and they never gonna build that highway. We're just we're trying to get it to Prichard, you know, been trying for years. And when they came out with the tax thing, it was supposed to be, oh, we'll build a four lane to Pritchard. Maybe Fort Gay. And then. And then they say, oh, no, there's an Indian relic there. We can't do that. But it didn't. It wasn't for the whole section. It was just that one part there by Knox Creek, I think and they never touched it. But we still pay our taxes every year, they increase taxes that we voted in, you know, to make that road possible. And they have a couple of miles of four lane and crumb, half of it's blocked off. It's been there for years.

Brandon Dennison:

Road to nowhere.

Larry Castle:

Road to nowhere. Yeah. And if they would just tie that in, on say the Ginny's Creek side. You could use that and will be a big help cut several minutes off the traffic. You know...

Brandon Dennison:

All in all, though, given experience with Coalfield, your experience in the community, your experience in local politics? I mean, do you feel hopeful about the future of West Virginia?

Larry Castle:

Sure. Yeah. Yeah. We've, you know, they talk about coal, coal, will be back. They're gonna need it someday. For something. And, you know, used to a few years ago, coal was everywhere. And a lot of people worked in the mines. A lot of people drove coal trucks and make good money. And now you see very few coal trucks and very few mines. But they've still got it. And as long as you've got it, you know, that's a valuable commodity. Somebody's gonna want it.

Brandon Dennison:

And a hard working workforce, right. So even if it's not coal, we can build solar farms.

Larry Castle:

Oh, yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

Wind Farms, build hydro power, we can be an energy state and be more than just coal, right?

Larry Castle:

There's so many things. I mean, my goodness, I, you know, we've talked before we went to Mesa Verde in southern Colorado and saw how the Anasazi lived the cliff dwellers. And you know, they built, they built their dwellings under the cliff. They did their farming stuff up on top, and they had ladders going down. Well, in the wintertime, they were facing south and the sun shined in for their buildings where, but as the sun moved north, in the summertime, when it was hot, the sun hit the top of the mountain, and didn't get the end. It kept them cool. And they had a little water things for the water ran into the rock. You know, they'd get a drink, drink and stuff. And so my thing, behind the sun. Yeah, that's right. My thing is not necessarily 100 percent underground, but berm houses where the south facing side of your house is open has windows and collects the sun in the wintertime. But then in the summertime, it's overhead and the dirt on top of your house from being underground. It keeps your house cool. And you can you know, you can go out lock the door and be gone a year and come back and probably nothing ever happened.

Brandon Dennison:

You're always thinking up new ideas.

Larry Castle:

I think that's the key. I think that, you know, if every time you build an underground house, just think about how much you shrink that footprint. You know, that carbon footprint, you know, it shrinks so much and people are going to build houses. I wish I had known more, well, I wish I knew more about this when I built my house. But yeah, I would love to have an underground house. You know, I mean, I think that's the thing of the future. You know, electric bills are gonna be so high we, you know, they want to switch to electric but right now you don't produce enough electric to switch to electricity. I mean, you know, it's not, you know, you need to go out and produce some electric electrical generating stuff. I don't care whether it's solar, or however you want to do it, you know, but I think that water is a great thing. We have the rivers here, we could put water generators all over the place. We have a lot of lakes.

Brandon Dennison:

One thing Appalachia has that not a lot of other places have right now. It's clean water.

Larry Castle:

That's right. We could put electrical generators on all these lakes, you know, I mean, we got Eastland, Beach Fork, Wayne County, and we got to you know, Kentucky, they got a whole bunch of them over there. Paintsville and, well, you know, a bunch of those lakes, and it's hard to say how much electricity you could generate because those those lakes, they have out water coming out all year, you know, more so in certain times, but all year there's water falling through there. And I know a guy that worked out here and he adjusted those gates all the time. And two or three times a day he would be going out and adjusting the gate so that...

Brandon Dennison:

To control how much water

Larry Castle:

Yeah, yeah. That's right.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, Larry, you're a good friend. And so I just admire everything you've done for your community. And something people should know, as you were board chair for the first 12 years of this organization, monthly meetings, and the only reason you ever missed a board meeting would be a health, the health or family situation other than that you were there 100%. And I'm just so grateful for everything you've done for this organization and for this community.

Larry Castle:

Thank you, Brandon. You're supposed to go

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, it's it's it's a lot. to meetings if you're on the board, you're supposed to go to the meetings. That's part of it. You know, some people want them

Larry Castle:

It's one of the tops ever anywhere, right? Yep. for different meetings, you know, they want to be on different boards for resumes and distinction. Yeah. But, you know, if you're going to be on a board, you should be there. You So just think what you did. And we did it together. I think we can't do business. Right. And, you know, there's been times when you have trouble getting a quorum. And some people are not really sincere about serving and helping out, you know, but you weed those out over the years, and they weed yourselves out. And but let me say, Brandon, Coalfield is you, you're Coalfield. You started it, it was your ideas, and you made them happen. And gosh, just think about that. Just think about where that puts you in history, because Coalfield is one of the best nonprofits in the world. I mean, your return on investment now, how high is that? That's way up there. And about it, you know, and you're the driving force. But now there's one other thing I have to bring up is, you know, I tell young guys, and they've done this a few times that if you want to be successful, you just find a good looking woman that is smarter than you are, and do whatever she says. I said, that's what I did. You know, and I know Park Ferguson, you know, I've told him that then he married Lacey. And he said, 'Are you getting in my head?' But you did the same thing? You know, we didn't do anything until I Ashley came along. That's true. Factor. We were we were nothing. We're just a bunch of guys having spaghetti.

Brandon Dennison:

You were there. When I met. When I met my future wife.

Larry Castle:

I saw that spark. Yeah. And I said, Brandon, you're gonna go over and get a pizza after the meeting. He said, I think you said I think so. He didn't invite me. But I don't blame him.

Brandon Dennison:

A lot of good times. Larry. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Larry Castle:

Hey, thank you, Brandon. You take an old retired guy. You know, I would retire, I thought I was going to watch grass grow, you know, and got involved and all this other stuff and politics and Coalfield, Coalfield has been the most successful thing that anybody's ever been involved in Coalfield has been in, you know what I mean? And it's a hard decision sometimes. But like I said, I don't, I was thinking about this. And I don't think we ever disagreed if we were able to talk about, yeah, the only time that we ever disagreed was when we something came up all of a sudden, and we didn't have time to discuss, right? Because we always come to an agreement. You know, and I love you, Brandon, I think you're right.

Brandon Dennison:

I love you too.

Larry Castle:

And, you know, we could always, that's the key to everything. You know, some people get mad if somebody says something to him. But if you genuinely like them, you don't get mad.

Brandon Dennison:

And the respect. Yeah. People that like each other... And we were committed to the mission, even if we maybe would do things a little bit differently. At the end of the day, we never had to worry about motivations.

Larry Castle:

Right? So you you're a different than I, you're young. And you understand the young people. I understand more the old people. So that was great. Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah. Well, thanks for being on the podcast. Now. Lots of other people can can hear the story of some of the early days and learn more about your inspirational story, and I can't wait for it.

Larry Castle:

Thank you. Brennan, let me tell you one thing, you know, you talk about what you're going to do in the future. Our ideal job mine and Connie's ideal job would be to go around like for a hotel or you know, something like that company, and critique each one as anonymously, you know, I mean, just get in the car and drive the, right here all over the country outside the country wouldn't matter. We always thought that would be our ideal job. We love to travel. You know, we love being home, but we love to travel. And, you know, that don't you think that'd be an ideal job?

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, that'd be great. May it be so.

Larry Castle:

Yeah, if we needed to we could take a couple of grandkids you know? And just act like we were there spending a night or two you know,

Brandon Dennison:

They would never know. The next day they get a report, report out.

Larry Castle:

I thought that'd be a great job. I talked to some people one time that did similar thing with the company not the hotel but with the with the company and they traveled around, I thought, 'Man, that's ideal.' Anyway that it.

Brandon Dennison:

If I see anything like that you'll be the first person I let know. I appreciate it. Thank you, Larry.

Larry Castle:

Thank you, Brandon.

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.