Virgil Floyd Rider b. 1912 d. 1967

Virgial Floyd Rider
Virgil Floyd Rider in an undated photo.

Meet my grandfather, Virgil Floyd Rider.  Virgil was born August 11, 1912 in Kanawha County, West Virginia.  The birth certificate that I have was generated from an affidavit from his father when Virgil was 27 years old so it doesn’t have much more in the way of any details, like for example, whether he was  born at home and at what address.

He married my grandmother, Helen Louise Boka on July 13, 1937 in Hugheston, Kanawha County, West Virginia.  He was 23 and she was 18. The ceremony was performed by Reverend R. L. Hanson.  As far as I can tell, they lived in Blakely, West Virginia their entire lives.  Just down the hill from my great grandparents, Virgil’s parents, Honzura Rider (aka Hans Ulrich Rider) and Lottie Mae Wills Rider.

He passed away on April 26th, 1967 at the age of 54 from lung cancer.  He and my grandmother had nine children, 3 of them preceding him in death.  At this writing March 3, 2013, there are 4 surviving children of the couple.

I came across a news article that mentions him and several family members.  The Sunday, February 23rd, 1936 edition of the Charleston Gazzette, page 18 has a story with the headline “Police Chief Held in Wounding Case”. It goes on to report that William Burnett, the Chief of Police of Cedar Grove, was arrested by State Police after wounding Ralph Wills, age 22 of Kelly’s Creek.  It says that Wills had been charged with breaking out of the Cedar Grove jail, releasing four other prisoners, and stealing a car on February 15th.  My grandfather is named in the article as one of the other four prisoners.  With my grandfather during the escape was his brother, Ivan Rider, George Cecil and Charles Settle. The four of them were in jail after being arrested for drunken driving.

Ralph Wills was shot in the leg by the Police Chief when Burnett went to Ward, WV to arrest him on the charge of breaking out of jail.  Wills ran from him, Burnett fired a shot intending to scare him into stopping but instead wounded him in the leg and getting himself arrested for the incident.  He took Wills to Charleston General Hospital and said he didn’t know Wills was injured because he’d continued to run for some distance before he caught him.  Burnett paid $2,000 and was released on bond.  The article also mentions the other 4 men, including my grandfather, had not been found.  Just over a year after this incident, Virgil married my grandmother.  I wonder if her parents knew about this little story at the time?  I have also wondered if there were other stories.

I didn’t do any deep research to find Ralph’s connection to Virgil but I believe he is the son of Lemuel Wills and Rosa Lanham.  Lemuel Wills is the brother to my great grandmother Lottie Mae Wills Rider which would have Ralph as my grandfather’s cousin.

Sadly, my grandparents would make the newspaper again when my aunt, Norma Jeanne Rider, at age 10 suffered a terrible accident on Christmas Day 1949.  Her dress accidentally caught fire and she was severely burned after she ran through the house and out the back door. My grandfather is said to have caught her and put out the flames with a feed sack. He’d been on his way down the hill, coming back to the house when she came out the back door.  She languished in the hospital until she died from her injuries on New Year’s Day, 1950.   By this time they’d also lost an infant daughter to illness in 1941 and during my grandfather’s lifetime would lose one more daughter to cancer in 1961 just shy of her 21st birthday.

My grandfather is listed as a disabled coal miner at the time of his death in 1967 and I have a copy of one of his old UAW Union Dues log books. On the whole, it seems to have been a difficult and tragic life for my grandparents – MawMaw & PawPaw Rider we called them.  Even with the sadness and less than perfect reputation he seemed to leave behind there are tender stories about him.  He had a fairly regular habit of reading from the Bible and singing hymns and other songs with his children.   He built a modest little home for the family where they lived their entire lives.  Later I would look out the window of the living room of the home, over the driveway, up to the road surrounded by trees and admire the view of a freshly fallen snow.  It was perfect for a postcard.

There was a cedar tree in the yard that was mature by the time I was old enough to know anything about it.  It was repeated over and over how he’d planted that cedar tree. It’s a landmark that stands out in my mind since I walked passed it dozens of times over the years on the way up and down a path that went between my grandparents’ house and my aunts’.  Every time I passed it when I was alone I thought about him planting it.  I never met him so I guess it caused me always to wonder what he must have been like, I would try to imagine him planting that tree.

For perspective, I’ve decided to make note of a few landmarks in history for each of my ancestors as I write about them.  My grandfather was born when William Howard Taft was president.  There were 10 more leading up to 1967; Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

A lot of notable historic events took place in the 54 years that he lived, so many that I don’t know where to start in calling them out.  Even with all that going on around him I doubt his daily routine varied much over the years.  Living in an area remote from any bustling cities has a way of making time stand still.  It used to be a little bit like stepping back in time when I would visit there as a child.  My grandmother continued to use an old wringer washing machine for as long as I can remember and I don’t think she ever had a hot water heater at her house. She still heated water on the stove to fill a tub when she wanted a hot bath well into the 1990s.  Seeing how little things changed for her over my lifetime, I can see it was even less likely to see much change when my grandfather lived there.

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  1. Rita keenan Unzner

    My father William Clayton keenan jr and mother Delores Ann (Simms) lived up on a hill for a time in ward I was very young and remember always wanting to go to Scholl and got to do that one day when I was about 4 yes old wearing my little cowgirl boots and skirt I sat in one of the desks and experienced good ole school days. Later I attended ward until we moved to Jacksonville Florida . Just visited for a family reunion of the keenan clan in summersville love hearing all this history

    • Lisa

      Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your comment on my blog about your family and memories of Ward WV. I stay so busy with my “day job” I don’t have as much time to tend to my little website here. I’m hoping I can find out if there will be a Ward WV reunion this year. A lot of the people who worked hard to make it run have either gotten ill or passed away. If I learn something I will post it on the blog. Thanks again for dropping by…my grandfather’s sister was married to a Keenan!


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