The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education will host its third Summer Fundraiser on Saturday, June 10 from 6 to 8 pm (rain or shine) on the grounds of historic Patterson’s Mill in Martinsburg. The event will support the Center’s civics education initiatives, including its intern program, and celebrate its twentieth anniversary as a non-profit organization on the campus of Shepherd University.
The fundraiser’s featured entertainer is pianist Bob Thompson. From street corner doowop gigs to house pianist on NPR’s Mountain Stage show, Bob Thompson is arguably West Virginia’s best loved jazz musician. Catering will be provided by the popular Taste of Greece food truck.
The Center’s mission is to promote a better understanding of Congress and the Constitution through its educational programs. As a non-profit organization, it must raise funds for staff and operations not covered by the State of West Virginia or Shepherd University. The fundraiser will allow the Center to continue to develop and expand its programs.
The main reason for supporting the Center’s programs, according to Dr. Ray Smock, Interim Director of the Center, who is back at the helm after retiring in 2018, “is because civics education and understanding of how government works is needed now more than ever.” He noted that the nation’s most recent report card on the scores of eighth graders for United States history and civics shows “we are going backward, not forward.” Only fourteen percent of students reached a proficient mark in U.S. history and twenty-two percent in U.S. civics. “Students need to know how government works. Compromise is the oil that makes Congress work. Today, we’ve run out of oil. We’ve forgotten how to compromise for the good of the country.”
The Center’s archives include the extensive office files of five West Virginia members of Congress, the largest being those of Senator Byrd, the longest serving Senator in U.S. history. The archives are the foundation for the Center’s U.S. history and civics programs.
Recently, the Center welcomed Matisha (“Tish”) Wiggs as its new archivist, whose role, among other duties, is to process its collection of congressional files so they can be used by scholars and other researchers. She will also direct the student internship program. Wiggs has these matters well in hand with an MSLS in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA in Public History, with a concentration in Historic Preservation, and a BA in American History.
Her first task is to organize the papers contained in 1600 file boxes of Robert Mollohan and his son Alan Mollohan who, combined, represented West Virginia in the House of Representatives for 46 years. Visitors to the file room containing floor-to-ceiling Mollahan file boxes will be impressed, if not buried. Smock expressed heartfelt confidence in the new archivist — “She understood immediately what had to be done.”
This summer, in partnership with Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt’s renowned Appalachian Studies program at Shepherd, the Center will offer a new approach to civics training with its “People Powered Program,” a modified version of the Center’s vaunted Teacher Institute program. The program, which provides continuing education opportunities for middle- and high-school teachers, will help teach civics from the viewpoint of people engaging with Congress to solve problems and shape the nation —the very definition of the democratic process. The Center’s congressional collection offers primary research material for this endeavor, whose goal is to “teach the teachers” who can then introduce this training throughout the state.
Summer Fundraiser Tickets are $150 per person. Visit the Byrd Center website for more details (ByrdCenter.org).By Lee Doty