1985 West Virginia Flood Relief Telethon

Charleston Gazette
December 9, 1985

Goal May Be Met; Denver Ends Show

By Phil Kabler
And Wire Reports

Business and political leaders, Sunday school classes, grandmothers and some people out of work donated $881,000, and unofficial reports put donations as high as $950,000 to the West Virginia Flood Relief Telethon.

Marilyn Fletcher, executive director of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, predicted that the telethon's $1 million goal will be met once mailed contributions and Sunday afternoon pledges are tallied.

Arriving in Charleston after midnight Saturday, pop music star John Denver hit the Cultural Center stage at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, closing out the statewide telethon with a half-hour performance that began with "Rocky Mountain High," and ended with ballad and up-tempo versions of the unofficial Mountain State song "Country Roads."

"Anywhere I go in the world, people know the song," he said. "It's not just about West Virginia, it's about going home, which is an emotion all people share."

Spectators packed into the center's small theater, standing and clapping to the "Country Roads" encore. Many softly sang along with Denver, who was joined onstage by the other personalities who had appeared earlier in the five-hour program.

Throughout the evening, callers from the [sic] around the state and from California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Colorado jammed the telethon's bank of 40 telephones. Pledges continued to roll in long after the telethon signed off at 1 a.m., prompting organizers to reopen the phone lines from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

By Sunday morning, pledges and contributions totaled about $850,000.

Sponsored by the broadcasters' association, the telethon was broadcast on all 14 television stations and about 50 radio stations in the state.

Denver's appearance helped the telethon attract national publicity. Cable News Network, for instance, broadcast excerpts of his performance during the day Sunday. The network also announced the telethon's toll-free telephone number.

The program, co-hosted by Beckley native Chris Sarandon and "Mountain Stage" host Larry Groce, featured performances by Kathy Mattea of Cross Lanes, soap opera stars Kim Zimmer, Krista Tesreau and Brian Taylor, and musicians including Richie Havens and Tom Chapin.

A taped message from President Ronald Reagan also was broadcast. Reagan urged West Virginians to help their neighbors. "West Virginia has a long and proud tradition of overcoming adversity," the president said.

"We were tickled to death President Reagan called," Fletcher said. "There was a lot of phoning back and forth Saturday with that. The White House staff was really pushing it for us."

State natives Chuck Yeager and Jon McBride made telephone calls to the telethon. Former football star Sam Huff, a West Virginia native, called from Philadelphia.

Actors [sic] James Garner also telephones after some last-minute arrangements. Garner's nephew, Terry Bumgarner of WOWK-TV in Huntington, helped coordinate the actor's call.

Actor Robert Duvall also called to pledge $1,000, and to urge others to contribute to flood relief efforts.

Denver's appearance marked a reunion with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, the two writers with whom he co-authored "Country Roads."

Citing the song's worldwide popularity, Denver said "Country Roads" was the most requested song during his concert tour of the Soviet Union last year.

He also described a promotional tour to introduce his records in mainland China. "They had my picture in a display and about one person in four would come up and say, 'John Denver' and one in five would sing 'Country Roads,'" he said.

Conceding that he knew little about West Virginia when he wrote the song, Denver said, "That was my first hit record - something that has to do with the whole of my career."

He added, "I don't know a lot of people here, but I feel a kinship, I feel like family here."


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