WHEELING - When Wheeling Park High School senior Sarah Jones attended the 71st Rhododendron Girls State this month at Wheeling Jesuit University, she continued a family tradition started 58 years ago.
Her grandmother, Betty Lazear of Bellaire, attended the 13th session of Girls State in 1955, then held at Jackson's Mill in Lewis County.
"Rhododendron Girls State (this year) was very special to me," Jones said. "I was able to follow in my grandmother's footsteps, as well as attend during the year West Virginia turns 150 years old."
Wheeling Park High School senior Sarah Jones, left, and her grandmother, Betty Lazear, are alumni of Rhododendron Girls State. Jones attended Girls State this year; and Lazear, in 1955.
Lazear was a resident of Greenbrier County and student at Smoot High School there when she went to Girls State in 1955. She went on to attend Concord University in Athens, W.Va., and became a home economics and science teacher.
She met her husband, Vincent, at a vocational teachers conference. The two went on to teach in Marshall County Schools and have been married for 50 years.
She said she chose to attend because it was "one of those things to do while you were in school."
"When I heard Sarah was going to Girls State, I was on cloud nine," Lazear said. "I'm so thrilled for the girls who get to attend. I am proud and happy for Sarah that she had the opportunity to participate and experience Girls State. The American Legion is to be commended for their many years of continued support for this very beneficial citizenship training program."
Jones plans to attend West Liberty University or West Virginia University and major in business and music. She plays the flute, the piccolo and the piano. Jones noted her favorite part of Girls State were the military-related ceremonies presented there honoring prisoners of war and soldiers still missing in action. She said they gave her a greater appreciation for the military.
"I realized the soldiers gave up their their freedom so we could be free and go on to achieve," Jones said. "Girls in other countries don't have the opportunities we do - like Girls State - to better ourselves. It makes you stop and think about what we have now that others didn't."
She noted the highlights of the week, which included instruction on state government from state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke; on county government, from Ohio County Court Clerk Brenda Miller; and on city government from Allison O'Konski, Wheeling marketing director.
"A real treat was having Secretary of State Natalie Tennant speak on Monday during our lunch," she said. "She spoke of herself and her experience in politics."
Lazear lamented she didn't have many items to remind her of her stay at Girls State. She said she has newspaper articles from the time, and a group picture. Lazear also remembered having to wear a white dress and shoes for the inauguration ceremony at Girls State, and she passed that information on to Jones.
"I'm sure things have changed," she said. "But it's basically still about the same things - the citizenship training they have. I'm sure they've improved and added to it. I just know it was an exciting time."