By Jennifer Lane, Publisher Photos by Bethany Belford and Jennifer Lane
The Fluorspar Miners’ Memorial dedication and unveiling ceremony was held Saturday, June 17, 2017 in Rosiclare at the pavilion near the levee where the Capitol Theatre building once stood. The memorial was created to be a unique and educational experience about fluorite – the Illinois State Mineral, its significance, and how the 1971 Barnett mining accident in Pope County influenced the passage of the 1971 Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. The memorial was created to remember all those who lost lives in the fluorspar mines across the local area, and to honor those who made a living from the fluorspar industry.
Bethany Belford photos above.
One could sense a feeling of nostalgia in the air as the crowd gathered. Many bought fluorspar and visited the various booths and vendors set up at the site. As time for the ceremony grew closer, the audience gathered in anticipation of the event — and to finally see the unveiling of the Mr. and Mrs. Miner bronze statues and granite memorial monument.
The song “I Was There” by Josh Turner was played, followed by an old, but familiar sound – the Ozark Mahoning mill whistle being sounded. The Cub Scout Pack 2982 led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by the crowd. Pastor Harold Miller led everyone in prayer.
Rhonda Belford Pastor Harold Miller
Rhonda Belford, president of the Ohio River Scenic Byway led the heartfelt ceremony. She spoke about how the mining industry influenced Hardin County and surrounding areas, calling Rosiclare a “boom town” during that time. The population doubled and grocery stores were found on nearly every corner.
She recognized the significance of the mining industry to generations and how that importance has been carried on through the years. For example, how the late Carmlee and Keith Poindexter’s mining cart was donated in their memory by family and used at the memorial site. And, how the family of the late Noel E. Hurford dug up photographs and articles used in the Hardin County Independent to remind generations of what occurred during those years. Also, how Bill Jenkins wanted to donate pieces of fluorspar in memory of his brother Jerry Jenkins buy a memorial for him on the Memorial Wall to support the project. Bill passed away before seeing the finished project, and now joins his brother on the Memorial Wall.
She added that Hardin County Hospital Director Roby Williams gives full credit to those mine superintendents who wanted a hospital. He said that Hardin County might not have had a hospital, that continues to serve and save lives today, if it weren’t for the need of a hospital at that time.
Interpretive Panels under pavilion
Pastor Harold Miller stepped up to the podium and gave a powerful and heartfelt message about the history of the Fluorspar Mines, uses of fluorspar, and how the mining industry affected his family personally. He shared how so many members of his family benefitted and were supported financially by working at the mines.
Belford introduced her son Britt Belford who currently works as a federal mine inspector for MSHA. His grandfather Randel “Jock” Belford was one of the men killed in the 1971 Barnett mining accident. He read aloud the official report of incident from the 1971 mining accident.
Senator Dale Fowler recognized members of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. He also recognized mayor Roy “Jug” Tolbert and the City of Rosiclare, by presenting Tolbert with a plaque. Tolbert expressed his gratitude for support from the community and the partnership shared by the City of Rosiclare and Ohio River Scenic Byway in this project. He complimented Rhonda and Mike Belford for sharing a tremendous amount of their personal time and effort that was put into the project. Tolbert spoke about how funding was initiated by grant money and those funds were matched to make the project a reality. He added that so many stepped forward to make this possible.
Senator Fowler and Belford presented framed proclamations and letters to the families of each of the miners who lost their lives in the 1971 Barnett mining accident. Members of the Rosiclare Fire Department rang a bell in remembrance as each name was announced. Families and descendants gathered under the pavilion after receiving the acknowledgment. Miners who were honored were: Bill Long, Wayne Long, Jerry Jenkins, Gale Bates, Randel “Jock” Belford, Orval Holbrook, and James “Jim Bob” Lane.
Rosiclare Fire Department ringing bell for each fallen miner. Congressman Shimkus speaking.
Congressman John Shimkus was introduced to speak. He noted that it was his first public appearance since the shooting at the 80th Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Virginia last week, where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip. Shimkus and Scalise are roommates when staying in Washington, D.C., so that incident hit close to home. Shimkus said that we shouldn’t live in fear, but continue on. We should be just like those seven miners who went into that mine shaft each day without fear to provide for their families. He added, they became heroes, one after another, when they ran to the need rather than turning away. In honor of those miners, Shimkus read a proclamation from the House of Representatives saluting the completion of the Memorial.
Next, Wilma Gibbs, whose dad was a fluorspar miner, stepped forward to read a poem she had written about the Barnett mining accident of 1971. The poem is called “Joy From Tears”.
Joy From Tears
This story is of heartbreak
Deep in Southern Illinois
From the darkness of a tragedy
Comes mem’ries’ heartfelt joy.
And the memory of the seven
Fallen miners long ago
Brought about the needed changes
For a healing stream to flow.
One by one as they were taken
Though the families questioned why
Here today they find in solace
Never will their mem’ries’ die.
Looking forward to tomorrow
Letting go of what’s behind
In this realistic moment
For the families as they find.
Closure for the part that’s missing
Thankful for this brand new day
Letting go and looking upward
To the healings on the way.
For the many who have labored
To this cause and toward these ends
May they find a fresh beginning
In these mining dividends.
Fallen brothers caring deeply
To their last heroic day
Wives expecting nothing less
Than their brave actions on that day.
Changed the outcome of the heartbreak
Through the span of time and tide
Here today with this unveiling
Hardin County’s heartfelt pride.
From the dark of tragic moments
To enlightenment of day
Joy comes from tears of sorrow
Eyes to see the Healer’s Way.
Mayor Tolbert presented Don and Bonnie Hastie, owners of Hastie Mining Company, with a key to the City of Rosiclare, in appreciation for the large amount of donation and resources they provided while assisting in the project.
Lastly, Belford presented Jennifer Lane, publisher of the Hardin County Independent, and staff, with a plaque for thorough coverage of the Fluorspar Miners’ Memorial progress and for compiling photographs and articles from past issues of the newspaper.
To follow all of the presentations, a granite monument was unveiled with the seven fallen miners’ names and pictures. Finally, the Mr. and Mrs. Miner bronze statues were unveiled and the sound of excitement and awe could be heard throughout the audience.
Pastor Lowell “Butch” Gowins led the audience in a closing prayer. The crowd gathered around the statues, took pictures, and obtained autographs from sculptor David Seagraves. Others dispersed to the booths, Rose Clare Craft Mall for the BBQ luncheon, and to the American Fluorite Museum for its Open House.
Sculptor David Seagraves with his works of art.
Alli Armstrong, from the television series, “Grace, Camo, and Lace”, presented a special video tribute during the Fluorspar Festival Committee luncheon documenting the miners, and the Fluorspar Miners’ Memorial project’s progression until finished. The Ohio River Scenic Byway partnered with Armstrong on this tribute.
The Fluorspar Miners’ Memorial ceremony was a very special day in the community and enjoyed by many. Compliments were continually given on the beauty of the Memorial and the sentiment of the ceremony and video tribute.
Photos from American Fluorite Museum, Main Street Rosiclare during the Open House that day.
Would you like to purchase a memorial or are you interested in a copy of the video tribute?