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Growing Up in Weirton, WV: My 20-Minute Conversation with Gretchen Weir

April 14, 2013

NOTE:  This post is not necessarily related to business or bankruptcy.  But, on second thought, maybe it is.  Just short of its 100th birthday, Weirton Steel Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Northern District of West Virginia (Wheeling) on May 19, 2003.   Here is the NY Times article published the day after the filing.  As detailed in the Weirton Steel wikipedia entry, by bankruptcy court order, the assets were auctioned with most being acquired by ISG. ISG then formed a new division called ISG Weirton Steel. On April 5, 2005, ISG completed a merger with Mittal Steel.  Then again in 2006, Mittal Steel completed a merger with Arcelor thus resulting in a new company known as Arcelor Mittal. While I was practicing bankruptcy in Philadelphia at the time of the initial bankruptcy filing, I relocated to Pittsburgh in 2004 and work for a boutique commercial bankruptcy firm who served as counsel to the creditors’ committee in the Weirton Steel Ch. 11 case. 

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E.T. Weir on the Cover of Life Magazine

So I attended the Weirton Festival of Nations this past Saturday.  I had to man the Rotary booth.  I brought along my children.

Weirton Steel

Weirton Steel

I had the privilege of sitting next to E.T. Weir’s lovely wife Gretchen at the Festival.  Her late husband was the grandson of E.T. Weir, who founded the Weirton Steel Corporation.  He is the man after whom our town and high school were named.   Gretchen Weir traveled here with her dynamic daughter from New York City to donate memorabilia to the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center and to address the audience as a part of the opening ceremony for the Festival. She and I talked about many things.  I told her what it was like growing up in Weirton and what it is like now.  I have reflected much about my upbringing in Weirton and my continued close bonds with my childhood friends.IMG_3298[1]Gretchen asked me to what extent the mill was still operating and I said I wasn’t exactly sure but, to my relief, I see smoke sputtering out of a few remaining stacks.  I told her my mom and I drove down Main Street just on Friday and shuttered when we noticed another part of the mill had been demolished.

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Festival of Nations

                       I explained Weirton was, at one time (and probably still is), one of the most ethnically diverse towns in the state of West Virginia.  There were numerous ethnic enclaves- Italian, Greeks, Polish, Serbs, etc.  The Festival this weekend was a celebration of this diversity.  Performances, foods, booths, etc.   My children and I thoroughly enjoyed it.   When I was a kid we used to have the “International Food Festival” each July.  It was a 3-4 day event.  I used to LOVE it.  I still have my “half-Italian” red, green and white pin.     I told Gretchen that Weirton was so unique because there were not significant economic disparities (i.e, the haves and have nots).   Most all of our pops, of course, worked in the mill; our moms had to quit working once they got married (!!! ).  Most families were in the middle class and experiencing a similar way of life.  Weirton native Anna Egan Smucker wrote a lovely children’s book titled NO STAR NIGHTS about growing in Weirton, this way of life.   I happened to borrow it from the local Mary H. Weir Library (originally built as a result of a $450,000 donation from E.T. Weir) and have been reading it to my children for the past few weeks.

rotary flag

Me at my Law Office in Weirton

Gretchen and her daughter were kind and interested and enthusiastic about urban renewal and where Weirton can go from here.  Gretchen even let me take a photo with her to post to Facebook!!

Although I typically write about business trends and success stories, this is a turnaround story about urban renewal and the evolution of a small steel mill town.   TO BE CONTINUED …

Weirredriders

Weir High School Logo

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