March 11, 2018 - The 78th memorial anniversary of the Willow Grove coal mine disaster that occured in Ohio is scheduled to be commemorated by members of the Neffs community and beyond on March 17.
The 78th memorial anniversary of the Willow Grove coal mine disaster is scheduled to be commemorated by members of the Neffs community and beyond on March 17.
Starting at 11 a.m., a prayer service will be held at Sacred Heart Church on St. Marys Avenue in Neffs, followed by the placing of a memorial wreath at the mine. After placing the wreath, there will also be a potluck dinner at church.
On March 16, 1940, 72 men died in an explosion at the mine, owned by Hanna Coal Co. Since the men who worked in the mine lived in a variety of places, the disaster hit the entire Ohio Valley hard. In some cases, there were multiple family members working there who were killed or who lost loved ones.
Event organizer Dr. Vincent Kolenich said he and others wanted to hold the ceremony because some in the community were beginning to forget the disaster ever happened. Many of those who worked at the mine have passed on, while others can still remember relatives who worked there.
As part of the ceremony, at 11:13 a.m., about the same time the explosion happened, three churches in Neffs will simultaneously ring their bells — Sacred Heart, Coal Brooke Presbyterian Church and Neffs United Methodist Church — for 72 seconds, representing the number of men who lost their lives during the initial explosion.
Kolenich said in his research he discovered there were many more men who died in the days and weeks later.
“People are starting to forget. We wanted to make people aware this disaster happened here in 1940,” Kolenich said of the reason for this year’s commemoration.
After the tolling of the church bells, inside the church after the name of each of the 72 victims are read, a small bell will be rang. Hymns and prayers also are planned. Following the church ceremony, those who are able are invited to travel to near the entrance of the mine, located about 6-7 miles down Willow Grove Road, Kolenich said. There, a wreath donated by Bev’s Floral & Gifts of Bellaire will be placed. After this, a potluck dinner will be had by all inside Sacred Heart Church’s community room.
Kolenich said paper and pencil also will be provided for people to write down the stories related to the mine and the mine disaster, especially those from relatives who worked there.
He noted there also will be plenty of photos, newspaper clippings and other coal-mining memorabilia for people to see at the church.
“This will give people an opportunity to remember what they were told about the mine. We will have those typed up and give each church several copies for their archives,” Kolenich said.
He noted organizers decided to hold the event on Saturday instead of Friday so more people could attend.
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