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Shepherdstown residents swap stories to raise money for library

April 15, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Randy Tremba, left, and Jay Hurley listen as Clifford Branson tells his story during "Left of the Bank: Shepherdstown Stories" Friday night in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — “Story is the oldest form of collective memory — the original and oldest database of human culture,” said emcee Ed Zahniser, who introduced the six local storytellers featured in “Left of the Bank: Shepherdstown Stories.”

The Friday night event in the Shepherdstown Community Club served as a Friends of Shepherdstown Library’s fundraiser and contribution to the ongoing 250th anniversary of the founding of Shepherdstown that was held Friday night in the Shepherdstown Community Club.

The event drew 110 patrons to the second floor of the building, formerly known as The Men’s Club. Tickets cost $35 and the proceeds from the ticket sales went to the library.

“Left of the Bank” started eight years ago as a forum for poets to share their works.

Edwinna Bernat, longtime organizer of the forum, said its name stems from the location of the building where it was first held, in a building to the left of the Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant on the corner of German and Princess streets.

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The format changed from poetry to storytelling this year in keeping with the town’s anniversary, Bernat said.

Two of the six storytellers, Jay Hurley and Clifford Branson, are Shepherdstown natives. The other four, Hali Taylor, Joe Matthews, Carlos Niederhauser and Randall Tremba, moved to the community 25 years ago or more.

The homey front porch set, complete with rocking chairs, was designed and built by Hurley.

Taylor, Matthews and Niederhauser related their stories first, followed by selections from area musician Don Oehser and his wife and storyteller, Laura First.

The six stars of the show related experiences and memories of their years in Shepherdstown, some real, some embellished, but the audience seemed pleased by it all.

Taylor, 59, director of the Shepherdstown Public Library, spoke first.

“There are three ways to get to Shepherdstown,” she said. “You can be born here, come here for opportunities like an education, a job or for love. Or you can get here like I did.”

Taylor and her husband-to-be moved from California to theWashington, D.C., area so he could earn a master’s degree. They returned to California after that and shortly after they arrived, he was offered a position that he applied for at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Back east they went.

He went to work and Taylor enrolled at Shepherd University.

“They had to decide whether to live in Harpers Ferry or Shepherdstown.

“One of us had to commute. We only had one car, but Shepherdstown had a laundromat,” she said.

Matthews, 83, who until he and partner John Shank retired in 2001, co-owned Matthews & Shank, a retail antiques business in Shepherdstown.

Matthews has said he “doesn’t like idle gossip. I like to keep it moving.” He told the audience that he believes stories are better “when the facts don’t get in the way of gossip.”

He and Shank moved their shop to several downtown locations before they were able to buy and settle into the building they own and live in on West German Street known on old maps as Lot 4.

He spoke of the building as it looked when they bought it in the early 1980s. Not only had it been used as what he called a “student ghetto,” it had vestiges of the days when farm animals were kept in the backyard. The smokehouse, cistern and root cellar are still there ...” he said.

Niederhauser, 69, said he has lived in Shepherdstown for “10 percent of the town’s 250 years. We’re all part of the town’s history,” he said.

He recalled being a member of the Men’s Club board of directors when the first women were allowed to join.

“It wasn’t long after when women were elected to serve as the club’s president,” he said.

Neiderhauser bought the mid-18th-century stone church that served the Episcopal congregation for decades. It later became a worship center for members of the black community.

Niederhauser converted the old church into an apartment that he later rented to a group of young locals who called themselves anarchists.

The Shepherdstown Town Council balked and gave him 30 days to evict the anarchists or face fines of $100 a day.

Neiderhauser went to a Jefferson County magistrate to see if he had to comply with the council’s order.

He was told that as long as the tenants paid their rent and didn’t destroy the property, they could not be evicted.

Tremba, the local Presbyterian Church pastor, said he came to Shepherdstown in 1975 “as an itinerent orchard worker and minister.”

During his talk, he showed a black notebook that he bought for 88 cents when he came to the church. He records funerals and weddings in the book, he said.

He said over the years that he buried 250 people and married an equal number of couples.

“My funerals were more successful in terms of permanence,” he said.

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