Only One Mall Employee Has Perfect 34-Year Record

She was working there before the Ohio Valley Mall opened for business and she’s still there.

On Oct. 4, the mall will complete its 34th year of operation. Luann Hamilton celebrated her 34th anniversary as a mall office employee last Thursday, three weeks before the shopping center officially opened. She was the first mall office employee and she is the only one after all these years who was there then and is still a fixture there.

In fact, Luann Hamilton was on the job in the mall office before Sears Roebuck & Co. moved lock, stock and barrel from Wheeling to become the first major business to anchor the huge retail center. “Nothing was open when I started working there. Sears opened right after I started.”

She was working there almost a month before the official opening of the mall on Oct. 4, 1978. “I don’t remember exactly but there were 20 or 30 stores already in the mall for that opening – most of them local businesses.”

Back then she was Luann Sykes, a recent graduate of Martins Ferry High School, looking for a job. Because it was anticipated there would be such a big demand by the new mall stores for employees, the Ohio State Employment Service set up a trailer outside the mall to handle the applicants and refer them to the various new businesses.

“I went to the employment office in the trailer to see what I could find. They sent me inside to see John Vandergrift.” Vandergrift had been designated by the Cafaro Co., owners and developers of the mall, to be the first manager. So as the first manager of the mall he hired Sykes as the first administrative assistant.

“And I’ve been here ever since,” she added in a tone of voice that indicated she has been well satisfied with the first and only job she has ever held. “I am looking forward to celebrating my 34th anniversary on Thursday (Sept. 13),” she exclaimed a few days prior to the big day. She has worked with three managers since the mall opened. “Vandergrift was the first one. He was here about two years. Tim Haislet came after him and stayed about a year and a half before he was promoted to the home office. Then came George Diab in 1980 and he’s been here ever since.” Actually, Diab started as an assistant manager and was elevated to manager in 1982.

What encouraged her to stay on for 34 years? “I have a family at home but this is my family here. The mall employees have been a great bunch of people to be with. I have enjoyed being here and working with them.” Her greatest satisfaction in her job has been “meeting a lot of people and making new friends.”

But being handy to what the mall advertises as more than 100 stores in one place has another distinct advantage for her. “I am an avid bargain hunter. There are plenty of them here and I don’t have to walk far to get them.”

Those bargains came in many forms as she watched one business after another leave downtown Wheeling and move into the mall. “First it was Sears,” she noted. “I don’t remember the order but some of those first arrivals included J.C. Penney, Stone & Thomas, L.S. Good, Lerner’s, Posin’s, Kings and Rogers jewelry stores, Baker Shoes, and Tom McAn shoes. There were a whole lot of other local stores moving in back then.” Only two of those stores, Kings and Rogers are still at the mall.

While she has seen many changes over the years, she views the current multi-million dollar renovation of the mall as “the biggest thing that ever happened. It is a huge project.” And she feels the changes being made will make the shopping center “more appealing” to shoppers.

There were a few notable changes in her personal life as well. She has raised two daughters and proudly proclaims: “I’m a grandma now.”

Legislation adopted to prohibit the posting of any type of banner, poster, balloon, or sign on the Belmont County courthouse passed its initial test last week when a political rally started out on the courthouse plaza but then slowly moved eastward and ended up being staged on the plaza steps in front of the former sheriff’s residence that is undergoing renovation.

Belmont County commissioners earlier this month passed a resolution barring the placement of such signs because of the potential safety hazard they produce and which could interfere with the use of the courthouse.

“We have had cases where members of organizations come around at night and climb up the front of the courthouse to hang signs and banners in preparation for some kind of rally the next day,” commission President Chuck Probst notes. “That’s dangerous. What happens if they fall? We can’t allow that.”

During the current presidential political campaign there have been several occasions when huge banners and signs were hung high on the front of the courthouse to promote a cause and as the backdrop for a speaker’s platform high on the courthouse steps.

The resolution refers specifically to such instances in stating, “person or persons recently affixed banners to the external face or faces of the Belmont County courthouse, which banners blocked the evacuation route for the second and third floors of the courthouse, thereby presenting a safety hazard and interfering with access to and from the building.”

According to the legislation adopted by the commissioners, such signs can still be used for public gatherings but only “as directed or authorized by the Belmont County commissioners.”

Belmont County has a new magistrate. It also has a new mediator. In fact, the two female attorneys who have held those positions just quietly switched jobs three months ago.

Attorney Amy Busic has taken over the job of the magistrate who handles domestic relations and other types of civil cases. She assumed the position after serving as county mediator for the past eight years.

Busic, who earned her law degree in 1999 from Ohio State University, succeeded Attorney Megan Banker who had held the position for the past four years, since the retirement in June 2008 of the late John Paleudis. He passed away two years later. Banker has been practicing law the past 22 years.

The switch in the two positions was carried out by a three-judge panel consisting of Common Pleas Court Judges Jennifer Sargus, John M. Solovan and Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Mark Costine.

Motorists like yours truly who have been looking – maybe praying is more appropriate – for a decrease in the price of gasoline got a real hefty jolt last Wednesday. The price of unleaded gasoline soared to $3.999, just one-tenth of a cent under $4 a gallon. Some stations had the price two cents under $4. The higher grades were well over the $4 mark.

On the day the price change was posted in St. Clairsville, a Bridgeport station still had the lowest grade of unleaded gasoline priced at $3.809 a gallon.

It is pretty tough to accomplish a “first” in a lifetime that has spanned as many years as mine. But it happened recently. For the first time a female barber – or is it more appropriate to refer to the females as stylists – gave my mostly bald noggin a trim.

My regular barber had a “closed” sign in the window of his shop in St. Clairsville the four times I went there, so I finally decided to visit Weaver’s Barbershop in Brookside. Bob Weaver was tied up with a customer, which left me one choice – Georgeanne Ellis.

It’s a difficult job to be “stylish” with what looks a lot like an oversized cue ball, but she cut, snipped, trimmed, shaved and did a good job arranging my 14 plus hairs in place. She was very congenial and friendly, too, which may result in a return trip.

One of those two woolly worms with the very dark, black coats that were mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, has been giving us almost a daily reminder about the very cold winter that soon will be upon us. It has taken refuge in the grass right outside our front door and every night between 9:30 and 10:30 it wanders out onto the sidewalk forcing us to carefully tiptoe around so as not to accidently crush it.

So now it is a nightly ritual for us to look outside to see if woolly worm has ventured out from under its grassy cover.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: