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West Virginia marks 161st birthday with murals, hot dog contest

BUCKHANNON — Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice marked West Virginia’s 161st birthday with a series of celebratory events, moving from the State Capitol in Charleston to Independence Hall in Wheeling.

“I’m honored to celebrate West Virginia’s 161st birthday surrounded by so many great people,” Gov. Justice said. “We have so much to be proud of in the Mountain State. The world is catching on to all the greatness West Virginia offers. It truly is the greatest state to live, work, and raise a family. I am beyond proud of what we have accomplished together, and I know the future for West Virginia will be just as bright.”

Action began in the Capitol rotunda with the unveiling of four new murals depicting significant moments and landmarks from the state’s history, including the Battle of Philippi, the Shiveree of Seneca Rock, Harpers Ferry in 1859, and the West Virginia State Seal. More murals will follow, expected to be completed by November 2024.

“Our State Capitol is already one of the most stunning in the nation, and today, with these new murals, it’s even more beautiful,” Gov. Justice said. “These beautiful murals tell our story, showcasing our rich history and what makes our state truly special.”

The ceremony featured performances by West Virginia Ambassadors campers, who sang the National Anthem and West Virginia Hills. Cabell Midland High School student Brody Hammers played “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on the piano.

Later, at the West Virginia Culture Center, First Lady Cathy Justice announced the winner of the West Virginia Birthday Hot Dog Sauce Contest. Paige Toney from Grantsville claimed the grand prize with her “Calhoun Band Booster” recipe, which she and former Calhoun County High School Band Director Jackie Blankenship used for years to fundraise for the school band.

“Our hot dog sauce contest had a tremendous response,” First Lady Cathy Justice said. “I mean what’s more West Virginian than a great tasting chili to put on your hot dog? There were some really unique recipes along with more ‘original’ chili recipes and they were fun to read through. I hope everyone enjoys the hot dogs, punch, and cake today!”

Also present were Jay Silverman and Joel Bennett, known as the West Virginia Hot Dog Guys, who received a proclamation from Gov. Justice declaring July as West Virginia Hot Dog Month.

First Lady Justice also cut the official West Virginia Blackberry Walnut cake, served alongside Mountain Mama fruit punch. Attendees contributed to an extra-large West Virginia Birthday Card on display.

Toney received a $500 gift card and an honorary first-place certificate, with her recipe being chosen as the best among three finalists. Second place went to Selina Burke of Charleston for her “Smiley Face Chili,” and third place to Miriam Weber of Green Bank for her “Homestead Venison Maple Medley.” Both winners also received gift cards, and their recipes will soon be posted on First Lady Cathy Justice’s Facebook page.

The day culminated with the unveiling of a statue at West Virginia Independence Hall honoring the state’s first governor, Arthur I. Boreman, who served from 1863 to 1869. Boreman played a crucial role in steering the state through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“Today is such a great day for all West Virginians, and I hope everyone had a chance to celebrate accordingly,” Gov. Justice said. “We are so blessed to have four incredible seasons and the greatest people on the planet. It’s been a real honor to be your Governor. Thank you for all you do, West Virginia.”

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