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Vesta Secrest was 'multitasking' before expression was popular

April 23, 2006|By MARLO BARNHART

Although it was a brief period in her life and many years ago, Vesta Wisner Secrest's memories of her days working as a laborer for the B&O Railroad in her native Morgan County, W.Va., remained clear.

"She told us she and her sister, Beatrice, carried crossties and hauled stone for the railroad," said Shielda Shank, Vesta's stepdaughter. While not sure of the exact years, it was during World War II, when there weren't many men around to do those jobs.

Recalling that experience, Shielda said Vesta - who died April 14 at the age of 93 - often would comment on bumpy railroad crossings when out riding with her nephew, Neil Bechtol.

"Aunt Vesta said they would never have let a crossing be that rough when she worked for the railroad," Neil said.

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Contacted by telephone, Neil said his Aunts Vesta and Beatrice would meet at the station in Great Cacapon, W.Va., and ride sidecars to their work sites.

Then, there was a stint working for the Celanese Corp. in Cumberland, Md., where the work was hard and long, Shielda said.

"She would have to run from machine to machine, sliding like someone running bases," she said.

Shielda was 8 years old in 1951 when Vesta Wisner married her father, Samuel Secrest.

"My own mother had passed away when I was small," Shielda said.

Vesta and Samuel met when he was a patient at War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and she was working as a nurse's aide. After they were married, Vesta focused her limitless energy on her new family and their home near Clear Spring.

One of six children raised by their mother just outside Great Cacapon, Vesta learned about hard work and family loyalty in that setting after her father - who also worked for the railroad - died at a young age.

Before Vesta died, she and her 90-year-old sister, Elvinia, were the only survivors of that family.

"They were very close, visiting often and keeping up over the telephone regularly," Shielda said.

At the Secrest home near Clear Spring, Vesta raised chickens, sold eggs, gardened, cooked, sewed for the family and for others, quilted, made homemade jellies, canned vegetables and meats, picked berries, cut greens and gathered mushrooms.

She also somehow found the time to care for Shielda's daughters, then grandchildren and finally, great-grandchildren through the years.

Many of Vesta's nieces and nephews would spend part of their summers with her, returning home with a strong sense of the work ethic she practiced all her life, Neil said as he recalled hunting, fishing and taking long walks with his Aunt Vesta.

"Up until she was 87 years old, she was still living at home and taking care of her great-grandchildren - even taking them on walks," Shielda said.

Vesta thrived on family reunions, visits and photos of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"She had a strong faith in God and went to church every Sunday," Shielda said. And there was always a hat on her head when she did.

At Vesta's viewing, a number of people came up to Shielda and talked of Vesta sewing for them over the years - some Shielda didn't even know about.

Known for her resourcefulness and ability to make do, Vesta never wasted anything.

"When a dress wore out, she used it in a braided rug," Shielda said. "Fabric scraps went into quilts."

Recently one of Vesta's old nightgowns had to be replaced and Shielda said she never even thought about just throwing it away. Instead, she turned the top into a painting smock and the bottom into a pillowcase.

After all, that's what Vesta would have done.

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