It’s been a difficult week for many across the tri-county area with the unexpected passing of a vibrant, young friend and colleague Lorie (Falls) Neal who served as the Executive Director of Gallia County Chamber of Commerce for the past 12 years. In the news business, we don’t have time to feel our emotions for very long. We have deadlines to meet. Stories to write. The news doesn’t slow down because we are angry, sad or frustrated with its nature. It just is, and we, as reporters and journalists, are tasked with bringing this news to our communities at large in a fair and unbiased manner … no matter how we feel about it personally.
This isn’t always easy.
As I was driving home from work in the early hours of Friday morning, I found myself thinking of Lorie through a different lens. I considered our many parallels — both growing up in Meigs County (she in Reedsville, me in Racine), both attending the University of Rio Grande, both spending time working in the public sector in a service capacity, both having preteen sons and both working in Gallipolis. I pulled into the parking lot of Eastern High School, where she graduated in 1991, just a few miles away from Southern High School, where I graduated in 1994. As I sat there in my car in the quiet fog, I wondered to myself what it was exactly that made Lorie so well respected, and moreover, well loved in the way she approached her work, and it came to me … community pride and personal perseverance.
She talked the talk and walked the walk when it came to promoting Gallia County and southeast Ohio … and in that regard among others, I strive to be just like her.
When Lorie was working, it was simply an extension of how she really felt about the area. She was ‘on’ all the time, attending after hours business events, eating at local establishments, planning technical workshops to help fledgling businesses, buying local goods. She worked to create networking opportunities for business owners and community leaders. She used the resources she had to boast local accomplishments, and she had a hand in nearly every event held within the Gallipolis city limits in the past decade.
Lorie earned respect in her career by tirelessly working to support a vision for a better place to live and work … a vision shared by many.
The wonderful truth is we have many visionaries in southeast Ohio. The entire landscape of the tri-county area has changed since Lorie and I were children in rural Meigs County. Our shared home county now features new highways that open access to economic development opportunities in the region, a task that requires decades of planning and implementation. Pomeroy now hosts some of the greatest blues performers in the world because of the efforts of people with a shared vision, and a new Imagine Pomeroy effort is gaining steam to further improve our region.
Neighboring Mason County, West Virginia, only last weekend hosted the 12th Annual Mothman Festival [see page C1 of The Sunday Times-Sentinel] which brought nearly 4,000 tourists to the area, filling every hotel in the tri-county region to capacity, and as I write this, the first Dragonboat races at Krodel Park are about to get started.
In Gallia County, we now have a growing River Recreation Festival, Chilifest, Rockets Over Rio and Envy Ink Salon. We support the arts with an elaborate and oh-so-fun Mardis Gras fundraiser, and music fills the downtown area during Second Fridays and the various Ohio River Live events throughout the year. New initiatives are also under way to light up the Gallipolis City Park this Christmas, and local families are rolling up their sleeves to help make it happen.
When I think of Lorie Neal’s legacy in southeast Ohio, I think of her genuine love for the region coupled with a passion and ambition to see the work required through to completion. Lorie was a force in Gallia County; she created momentum. If we want to honor her memory, I can think of no better way than to continue to support her vision and stick-to-it-ivensess by finding ways to give back to our communities and maintain the momentum of the years of work already done.
It’s not that difficult. Attend community events, and if you went once ten years ago and didn’t enjoy it, give it a second chance. Instill a sense of community pride in your children. Show them the good things we have to offer in our part of the world. Embrace the uniqueness and beauty of southeast Ohio and western West Virginia — and give back. Volunteer to help with something you believe in, and show your children what that looks and feels like.
Yes, there have been visionaries who have come before, but it is now up to us to build upon the momentum needed to make our communities stronger, safer, more vibrant and fully alive. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get started.