Constituting some of the major news stories of 2008 were these visits, momentarily placing local voters in the presence of political leaders normally seen or heard on Sunday TV public affairs programs.
The first came on Feb. 28 when U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House and campaigning heavily prior to the March 4 Ohio primary, stopped at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Rio Grande in between scheduled visits to Pomeroy and Ironton. Accompanied by daughter Chelsea, Clinton charmed the onlookers who crowded into the restaurant before resuming her travels.
Stumping for McCain, his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, made an unannounced stop at the Gallipolis Wal-Mart on Oct. 12 enroute to a rally in St. Clairsville, similarly surprising shoppers as she picked up out a toy and box of diapers for her infant son Trig. Palin also greeted the crowd and paused for photos before her departure.
On Oct. 29, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, himself a presidential hopeful and most recently a regular cast member on the “Law and Order” series, spoke on behalf of McCain to local Republicans at their fall rally.
The Obama campaign utilized Ohio spokespeople for Gallia County stops. These included a joint appearance by Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, and a later stopover by state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. Obama made appearances in Portsmouth and Chillicothe late in the campaign.
The local primary saw Gallia voters support Clinton and McCain for their respective nominations, and in November, the majority of the 56 percent of registered voters who cast ballots supported McCain.
The local election also had its share of interest, primarily in what proved to be the only two contested courthouse races, for sheriff and county commissioner. In the former, Capt. Joe Browning, a 21-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, outdistanced Republican challenger Roger Brandeberry, the retired Gallipolis police chief. For commissioner, Gallia elected its first woman to the post in Lois Snyder, a Democrat who unseated Republican Dr. David K. Smith, who sought a second term.
State Rep. Clyde Evans of Rio Grande won a fourth term in the statehouse over Democratic challenger Shane Meldick, an Oak Hill farmer and businessman. The remainder of races for local offices were uncontested, with first-time candidates Thomas S. Moulton Jr. and Brett Boothe taking over the offices of probate-juvenile judge and county engineer, respectively.
Addressing a rising tide of crime, such as burglaries and home invasions, was one of the topics in the sheriff’s race, although property owners’ willingness to defend themselves were expressed in separate shooting incidents late in the year.
A man suspected of breaking into a Bidwell man’s outbuilding on Oct. 30 was wounded with birdshot by the owner while allegedly in commission of the act, while another was shot inside the home of a Northup-area man on Dec. 3. The suspect in that incident fled but is believed to have been left at Holzer Medical Center, where he was arrested, by his accomplices.
As the year drew to a close, authorities announced the indictment of Brynn K. Martin, 29, Bidwell, in connection with the November 2006 slaying of 53-year-old William E. Sowers at Sowers’ residence near Vinton. In April, a Common Pleas Court jury found John Clayton Jeffers, 34, Southside, W.Va., guilty of the July 2007 slaying of Larry R. Cox, 54, Kissimmee, Fla., at the Island View Motel in Gallipolis. Jeffers was handed a life sentence by Judge D. Dean Evans.
On May 4, Gallipolis police investigated a murder-suicide at the Regency Inn (formerly the Blue Fountain Motel) resulting from a long-standing domestic dispute. Officers said Christopher S. Madison, 44, Columbus, shot Liberty L. Coleman, 37, Gallipolis, and turned his gun on himself. Coleman died of her wounds later in the day.
Daries D. Pemberton, 32, Willow Wood, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for shooting and wounding a woman and her father at their Gallia-area residences along Ohio 233 on Jan. 4. Both victims recovered.
Attention also turned to the plight of the family of a Crown City couple that went missing in Wayne County, W.Va., on March 14. Patty Frye, 72, and her 76-year-old husband Willard, were found dead in early May not far from where they were last seen at an East Lynn service station.
On another level, attention also focused on the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College early in the year when the boards of trustees for both organizations declared impasse on reaching a new service contract due to expire June 30. In March, state Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut stepped in with his own proposal, which extended the current contract to June 30, 2009, and created a coordinating officer to work out differences between the boards and address Rio Grande’s fiscal status.
The officer, Dr. Barbara Gelman-Danley, remains at work helping the institutions as the new year opens. In late November, Dr. Gregory Sojka, the university’s president, announced his resignation. Sojka had been interim president since January 2006 and had only been named president by the university board last June.
In other items of interest:
• With a $3 million boost from the federal government in April, and additional funding announced afterward, Gallia County Commissioners are nearing the bid phase for the long-sought Kanauga-Addison sewer project.
• Gallipolis City Manager R. William Jenkins, who had held the job since February 2004, retired on March 1. Joe Woodall, longtime city administrator, was appointed as his replacement on March 18.
• A new outpatient clinic was announced for Gallipolis on June 27 by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. With a goal of opening in 10 months to serve local and area veterans, a site search for the new clinic remains under way.
• Carissa Gilmore was crowned 2008 Miss Gallia County at the Gallia County Junior Fair in late July, while Alex Clark was named the year’s Miss Gallipolis River Recreation Festival earlier in the month.
• There were two traffic fatalities, both involving motorcycles, the Gallia-Meigs Post of the State Highway Patrol reported. One occurred in April and the other in July. There was also one drowning due to flooding in the Vinton area in March, and one victim of a structure fire near Vinton on Dec. 18.