A Most Joyous Place
By Ken Walker –
I mentioned in my last blog that Huntington, West Virginia had recently regained the ignominious honor of reclaiming the #1 spot as America’s fattest city. This came on the heels of another insult. Namely, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranking our city the lowest in the nation.
Unfortunately, this morphed into the shorthand description: “America’s most miserable place to live.” When this news surfaced, I shook my head and wondered: Who is so miserable? I’m not. Nor are many of the people I interact with every week.
Now, I don’t live with my head in the sand. The population of this area has steadily shrunk for the past 60 years. Like most of America, we have serious drug addiction issues. Finding a decent job is a challenge for many. One friend has been unemployed for more than a year despite a college degree and constant searching.
I know others who live in dire circumstances, just a step away from an economic or health disaster plunging them into oblivion.
I also realize that researchers conducted thousands of interviews nationwide to compile these rankings; they didn’t have some axe to grind about our community.
Still, anyone who sees us as the most miserable place should have joined me the morning of May 3 for the 5K run that kicked off Healthy Huntington Day. The annual event emerged as part of the grassroots activity that followed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, the ABC mini-series that captured the Emmy for “Best Reality Series” in 2010.
I arrived in the midst of a cadre of early-morning runners crowded around the entrance to the Holiday Inn downtown that served as race headquarters. The atmosphere radiated with optimism and energy.
As soon as I stepped into the registration room, the race director thrust some forms into my hand so I could help with walk-up business. To say it was hectic would be an understatement.
Whenever we got caught up, another runner (or two or three) materialized with money or check in hand so they could join the field. The roster wound up at nearly 180, and that doesn’t include children who participated later in a fun run.
There are other runs in the area that attract even more. Two examples are the West Virginia 5K and the Marshall University Marathon. The latter, held in early November, attracts runners from well beyond this region.
Among our area’s boosters is former Associated Press writer John Patrick Grace, who operates a book publishing company. A native of Chicago, he has lived in such far-flung locations as New York, Rome, Italy; and Pau, France.
Given this background, his opinion merits attention. In a recent column commenting on the survey, Grace pointed out the numerous pluses of life here, such as:
- The restoration of 27 downtown buildings over the last 15 years.
- More than two dozen dine-in restaurants between Marshall (eight blocks east of city hall) and the western edge of downtown.
- The jewel known as Ritter Park just south of downtown and two beautiful lakes within close proximity.
“My own personal conclusion is that too many of our folks either don’t know about or don’t appreciate all the services, amenities and cultural and recreational opportunities that Huntington and Cabell County in general have to offer,” Grace wrote.
I add a hearty “amen.” In fact, while the outside world labels us as the most miserable place to live, after what I experienced at Healthy Huntington Day, I would nominate the city as one of the most joyous.
Often, our evaluation of where we live has a lot to do with whether we appreciate our surroundings or just take them for granted.