Braxton Citizens' News, Community

105 year old Gassaway HS alumnus, still enjoys life

By Shirley Shuman

Still mentally alert and eager to talk, this 105-year-old man began life in West Virginia, and after many experiences and places, has returned to West Virginia. Ralph Kenneth Gosnell lived on a farm near Elmira, WV, off and on until after his high-school graduation. His father, a hardware salesman, worked in several different stores and several different areas, and the family moved with him most of the time. Although this may seem disturbing for the young, Gosnell appears not to have been affected by it.

Before his 1935 graduation from Gassaway High School, he had moved between Sutton and Lost Creek numerous times with returns to the farm sandwiched between several of those moves. After his freshman year at Lost Creek High School followed by a year at Sutton High, the family once again returned to the farm in lower Braxton County. Young Gosnell “laid out a year,” before finishing  his last two years at Gassaway High.

Then came a family move to Parkersburg. “Mother said, ‘We’re moving’ because I had three sisters and she had decided she would not send them to Elmira School for their education,” he explained. “Dad got a job there as a traveling salesman for a hardware store, and I enrolled in Mountain State Business College, where I took a secretarial course.”  Here Gosnell interjected, “That’s where we saw an airplane, a new DC -3 flying so low we could see people at the windows waving at us!.”

His next move eventually  led to his experience in the U.S. military although that evolved a bit oddly. Right before he was scheduled to graduate from the business college, someone asked him, “Do you want a job?”  After responding he “definitely wanted a job,” the young man found himself in Welch, WV, working for a “collections lawyer.” Although the title is self-explanatory, he described what this lawyer did. “Of course, he collected unpaid bills, and most of them were bills owed to the local hospitals. Located in the coal fields, this was quite a business. The lawyer got a percentage of the money he collected,” he explained.

Gosnell himself earned $75 a month. He rented a room in a private home and ate his three meals daily in what he termed “a boarding house.”  Soon, however, he found himself working for the power company and his move to the military became closer because of a friend there. “My friend went on to a regiment of the WV National Guard there in Welch as a full colonel,” he noted. “They offered me a job as staff sergeant working in regimental headquarters. Then, on January 1, the WV National Guard was federalized,” he said, and added, “I joined the army.”

From that point, Gosnell, in the 150th Infantry Company, apparently moved frequently. Camp in Mississippi was followed by training in the Louisiana bayous. It was there that the soldiers received a rare treat. “In New Orleans, they brought in two big buses loaded with girls, and they danced for us,” he said. From New Orleans his company was sent to the Panama Canal, to the Army camp at Mira Flora locks. “They were happy to see us because they were expecting the Japanese to come down there,” he noted. “You see, this wasn’t long after Pearl Harbor.”

After a stint in Officers’ Training School, Gosnell emerged as a Second Lieutenant. An assignment in Liverpool, England, followed, and then his regiment was returned to the states to prepare for invasion of Japan. “That didn’t happen,” Gosnell noted, “because we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and the war was over.” He was discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel.

A degree in Petroleum Engineering from West Virginia University and marriage to Helen Rogers followed his time with the military. He said he met Helen after he had asked his sister to help him get a date. He and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter—both still living. During the time he and his wife raised their children, he worked in Kentucky and Wyoming and then returned to West Virginia.

Interestingly, Gosnell responded to a question about the most interesting thing that has ever occurred to him with “That’s hard to say.”  He does consider his degree in Petroleum Engineering as the most important he has accomplished in his long life, and like “a true West Virginian, “ what he has enjoyed the most is “hunting and fishing.”

Apparently this centenarian also enjoys socializing. He commented that the assisted living facility where he stays has a social time from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., and he enjoys that. “I usually go a little before four,” he said, “and visit until dinner is served at five.”  Although blind “for about the last five years” and 105 years old, Kenneth Gosnell still enjoys life as he has apparently always done.