PRINCETON — The year 2018 saw four long-time heads of local institutions retire or prepare to retire as of Jan. 1. Executive Director of AAA/Bluefield Auto Club Laura Gooch, East River Volunteer Fire Department Chief Nelson Short, Athens Volunteer Fire Department Chief Derek Belcher and Superintendent of Glenwood Recreational Park Greg Pruett all sat down with the Princeton Times and talked about their years of service and their plans for retirement.
Laura Gooch started with AAA in April 1968 when it was known as the Travel Agency, she also taught as an adjunct professor in travel at Concord College. As of Dec. 31, 2018 she had been with AAA for 50 years and eight months.
She opened a branch office in Norton, Va. and served as a regional manager with offices in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky; and was involved in training.
According to Gooch, her start was in insurance, “Sally Collins (who is now deceased) and I started the Insurance Agency department in Bluefield, where auto, home and renters insurance and personal lines coverage was offered in our West Virginia and Virginia areas.”
Being in the travel industry has given her some wonderful memories.
“Travel and escorting AAA’s group tours, where clients become friends and family traveling all over the world. I have been on over 100 cruises, Hawaii & Alaska about 25 times, sailed the Atlantic & Pacific and probably my favorite destinations are Australia & New Zealand.” She went on to say, “The most memorable experiences are people and how they touched my life.”
As for the reason she decided to retire, Gooch said, “God has blessed me with a career that has been my life. I love people, a challenge and an opportunity to do many things within AAA’s benefits & services provided to our members and the community”.
As she looks to the future Gooch is looking forward to a more restful regime, “My life’s journey will continue, just in another direction. I look forward to mowing my yard, working with flowers and planting a garden. Who knows what’s next? I look forward to spending more time with my husband, Tom Marsh and family, church and helping in various areas in our community.”
She concluded, “When your entire life has been with one company, it’s like family. We didn’t say good-bye, just see you later. I’m looking forward the next chapter!”
Greg Pruett was only the second superintendent in Glenwood Park’s history, the first being the late Garland “Bo” Bowman. He started at the park on Nov. 21, 1989 and officially took over from Bo on Dec. 1, 1989. His official retirement date is set for Jan. 31, a total of 29 years on the job; eight more than his predecessor.
“Why am I retiring,” he said, “Currently, I feel that it is time for new ideas and new blood to continue to improve the park. The volunteer park advisory board has 12 very dedicated people on it that have put many, many hours in keeping the park a great family tourist destination. They have been the backbone of the park for years. Several are second and third generation members. Their hearts are in the camp and park. I believe with the help of everyone the park will continue to improve. I believe a fresh person can continue to work with all involved to improve the park.”
Life was always exciting as the superintendent. Pruitt joked that he could probably write a book about his experiences, but according to him the most memorable occurrence was the day he received a call that a car was on the lake.
“The story being that the car had been stolen in Princeton and the thief drove it to the 4-H Camp and wiggled it between the buildings to the lake. The catch was the lake was frozen over. So, the car barely broke through the ice. The vehicle was recovered with little damage. We have had other vehicles go into the lake over the years also. Some by mistake others on purpose.”
Just because his tenure at Glenwood Park is ending, that doesn’t mean his service to his community will be over. “I plan to continue driving a school bus for Mercer County Schools. That will still allow me to continue to work with the public and make new acquaintances. In my spare time I want to start doing woodwork.”
Pruett is grateful for the people he has worked with and mentored over the years, and has mixed feelings over leaving. “I have worked with a lot of great people over the years I would guess over 250 young, some first time ever working, people and workers to keep the park looking nice. The park has been my life for 29 years as a job and home. On the flip side, I also will enjoy having weekends free, all summer off to go on vacation any week we want; but I will miss the friends, employees and patrons that I have gotten to know over the years. It has been a pleasure to serve you!”
East River Volunteer Fire Department Chief Nelson Short joined East River in 1965 and has 54 years’ service in firefighting. He has a Lifetime membership and has held a position as treasurer on the board of directors and is hoping to help the department whenever possible after his retirement.
However, according to Short, “Firefighting is a young man’s game and at age 74, when it comes to firefighting, my body won’t let me do what my mind wants to do. I have enjoyed being part of a department that grew to one of the top VFD’s in the state, and mentoring and teaching a lot of young firefighters in our department and in southern WV.”
Short hated to leave the firefighting side of the department, “It has become a big part of my life and my friendships with all firefighters I have served with on a daily basis will be missed everyday. These firefighters are a special breed of humanity.”
After he hangs up his gear, he plans on spending more time hunting and riding his side-by-side.
Chief Derek Belcher started at the Athens Volunteer Fire Department when he was 18 in 1996 and served for a little over 22 years.
“I had my eye on a 20 year career,” he said. “And then a promise to re-evaluate and decide what the future looked like.”
When it comes to retirement Belcher said, “I felt like I had accomplished all I could with my availability and life responsibilities and it was time to turn the department over to the next generation of leaders.” According to him, “A firefighter life requires a great deal of sacrifice from your family and I was ready to spend more quality time with them, especially with my kids involved in so many activities.”
Being a volunteer firefighter has led to Belcher having a lot of memorable experiences. “I have had the opportunity to experience brotherhood in the best and worst of times. I have had the pleasure of being part of someone’s miracle and also held the hands of distraught family members when there was nothing that could be done.” He went on to say, “I treasure the experiences as they have given me a deeper love of love and understanding of what matters the most.”
Asked about the future, he said, “I plan to spend a lot more time with my family. There is so much sacrifice on their part and I am forever grateful for their faithful support of my passion. I am excited to make plans with my wife and our children.”
As to leaving the department, it’s a mixed bag of emotions for him. “We become a family and that will be something I miss I will continue to support and pray for these men and women as they do the job. It’s been and will always be an honor to call myself an Athens Volunteer Firefighter."
Contact Jeff Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.