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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘There’s a reason we’re baptized in water’



There’s no doubt our water is in the news. President Trump recently reversed a stream protection rule. Municipalities around the nation struggle with aging water systems.  And according to preliminary totals from the Beverage Marketing Corporation, the U.S. drank more bottled water than carbonated soft drinks in 2016. Bottled water volume is expected to come in at 12.7 billion gallons in 2017. 

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia has been highlighting water for 27 years with its annual international water tasting competition. These judges and participants had plenty to say about water.

Seminar participant David Lillard is the Special Projects Manager for West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a statewide nonprofit working to ensure access to safe, clean water. He’s based in Charleston.

Lillard: There’s a reason we’re baptized with water.

We are water. Our bodies are 60-70 percent water. If you are a child it’s more than that. That means we are the water we drink. I am the Potomac – I drink from the Potomac. That’s my water supply.

We all want to be healthier and take care of ourselves. When we abuse our water, we’re abusing ourselves. It’s our responsibility for our own behavior. And it’s also our responsibility to hold others accountable who are doing bad things to our bodies and our children’s bodies. We don’t have to destroy our economy to have access to clean, safe water.

There is no such thing as a healthy community or a strong economy that doesn’t have clean, safe water.

Arthur von Wiesenberger is the 2017 Water Master at the 27th Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. Water is his passion. As a 12-year-old, he kept a diary of the water he drank while traveling with his family in Italy. Every town had its own bottlers and each town’s water was different to the young Arthur. Now he leads the judging in the world’s longest running water tasting competition in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Water is judged for clarity, odor, taste, feel and quite frankly attempts to answer the question, “Would you want to drink it every day?”

von Wiesenberger: Water tasting is not new. It goes back to your infancy when you probably took your first taste of water – you made a subconscious awareness of whether that water tasted good. But generally, that’s about as far as water tasting has gone for the average person. It isn’t until you sit down and start tasting the waters next to each other blindly, that you realize there are differences, there are nuances of taste and aroma.

We drink water for what’s not in the water because we don’t want to have chlorine. We don’t want to have chemicals. Some people don’t want to have fluoride in their water.

What’s amazing about the Appalachian area is that you do have great tasting water and that could be in part because of the ground the soil the way the water filters through the different rock strata and how it gets cleaned up by nature.

We’ve had a number of brands from the region that have won here in Berkeley Springs. Sweet Springs for example, in Monroe County, – that was a gold medal winner from the early days here at Berkeley Springs.

There’s a lot of things that make water not taste good. But, for me I was always interested in water because I loved it. I felt healthier.

Larry Springer and Abby Chapple, both of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia are long-time preliminary-round judges in the tasting competition. Springer is a retired library director and Abby Chapple is retired from many professions.

Springer: Without water we wouldn’t be in existence. Water, it’s different. I think we could take 20-30 different words to describe it. You’ll find different tastes in the water. Different back tastes, different foretastes, different smells, which is kind of amazing. You don’t know until you start doing it… Well the Berkeley Springs water is excellent.

Chapple: I worry about the change in regulations. I’m really, really scared about getting coal run off since the regulations have been changed. I know of people in the southern part of the state, they literally can’t drink the water and it will even come out brown and then we know about the water that’s set on fire. We have big problems.

I’m worried about the people who are having to drink the water from the mines, because the mines left and that was the only system of water that they had. And now they have no water. In these little tiny towns they have to go to a store and buy bottled water to brush their teeth. Sorry this is wrong. It’s wrong.

If your water is good, then you don’t care. And so what you have to do is develop empathy and understand people who don’t have what you have – who are not as fortunate. To be in Berkeley Springs, and have our water — we’re really lucky.


Preliminary round judge Jen Rolston runs a graphic design and marketing firm in Leetown, West Virginia.

Rolston: I think sometimes we don’t put enough money and resources into our own municipalities and protecting water. For me, water is one of the few things you can’t live without. If we don’t have water, we’re not going to make it. So it seems pretty important to me.

I really like water. So I thought I might be a good judge. I didn’t used to like it. It wasn’t until I got pregnant and started having to force myself to drink a lot of water. We started getting bottled Berkeley Springs water because my husband was from here. I started noticing a real difference between the way our water tasted and when I was out in restaurants and other places. Sometimes water is really nasty. You can taste chlorine, or it might taste fishy.

The judging was fun. It was harder than I thought because a lot of the waters tasted very similar. I think most of them are good – there were only a few that I thought were really gross.

For me water shouldn’t have a taste or have a smell. It should just taste very clean or refreshing and shouldn’t leave any residue behind.

There was one water that was interesting — it didn’t have a smell or anything but it was really light in my mouth and I didn’t like that one. That’s the only way I could describe it. It was a very weird feeling.

Seminar presenter Jennifer Heymann is the Source Water Protection Manager for West Virginia American Water, a utility that supplies water to about a third of West Virginians. She’s based in Charleston and was photographed holding two of her company’s entries in the municipal water category.

Heymann: Source water protection is incredibly important. It’s an important part of that process to provide quality drinking water, then followed by treatment and distribution. The more we can do to protect our sources help us make that process that much better.

It is a local activity. Every source is different. Every community is different. Taking a collaborative approach to address whatever issues might face those local source waters is really the way to go.

Everybody can play a role. There are individual actions that we can all take to help maintain quantity and quality of the water and we’re all in this together.

J. Scott Shipe, has 39 years of experience managing water and waste water utilities and is a consultant in water infrastructure science. He is the Government Affairs Chair for the Chesapeake Water Environment Association and the Chesapeake Section of the American Water Works Association. Shipe lives in Hagerstown, Maryland and was part of the seminar and was honored by the competition for lifetime achievement. Shipe was photographed holding a lead pipe.

Shipe: I think we can do a better job. I’m embarrassed to think back when I was 29, I took over a system that was that old. I did a lot of changes in the system, but one of them wasn’t replacing the lead services. It wasn’t one of my 10 step programs.

Working on some of the oldest water systems, I know all these lead lines are still there and they work well; they’re going to be there forever if we don’t replace them. We know where these are.

We need to just be oddly honest with the public. We’ve got to quit hiding things. It’s not going to go away. I hope my colleagues in the industry will step up to the plate and basically be transparent from now on out.

Jill Klein Rone works as the producer of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting and she’s been involved since the start. When not producing water events, she leads the New World Theater Company, an interactive mystery theater group in Berkeley Springs.

Klein Rone: When you hear about a water tasting it kind of makes you laugh. I mean how do you taste water? But, then you find out that there’s a lot more to it than just take a swig of water. You also are reminded how important water is. Water is our most important natural resource.

Once a year we have the opportunity to put water into the highlight — to really focus on water and its importance. If there’s any reason I do it — it’s to remind people that we have to protect our water because we really can’t live without it.

We make it a big deal. We have a good time. We taste all of the water and we give out awards. The municipalities have bragging rights to say, ‘look what a good job we’re doing,’ because they are. And the bottled water people say, ‘our water is great,’ because it is.

In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at]

'Islam in Appalachia'

“Appalachian American Arab Muslim” Malak Khader



“To be an Appalachian American Arab Muslim … that’s a big title. I feel like I’m wearing so many hats at the same time.” Malak Khader of Huntington, West Virginia finds herself constantly fighting stereotypes about her religion and her home state. She started a multiethnic Girl Scout Troop at the Muslim Association of Huntington mosque. “The Girl Scout values align with Islamic values. It teaches you to build your character, it teaches you community service, it teaches you to educate people and be educated yourself.”

Malak’s full interview is part of our 360° video series Muslim in Appalachia. This series enables viewers to step into the worlds of Appalachian Muslims to experience what it means to navigate Muslim and Appalachian identity while challenging stereotypes of both.







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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘He’s a Mini Version of my Dad’



Jakari Tinsley, age 2, lives in Lynch, Kentucky. His favorite word is "No." Photo by Nancy Andrews

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us.”

Jakari’s favorite food is chicken nuggets. His favorite word is “No.” He likes to play basketball with his mini-basketball hoop and watch “Blaze and the Monster Machines” and “PAW Patrol.”

At age 2, and living in Lynch, Kentucky, Jakari Tinsley has his life in front of him. “I hope he grows up and goes to college and gets an education. Whatever he wants to do I will follow him and support him,” his mother said.

Jakari is wearing his grandfather’s hat. “He thinks he’s a mini version of my dad,” said Jakari’s mom, Marisha Tinsley. “Whatever dad does, he has to do too.”

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us,” his grandfather Terry Tinsley said, “that he get in a profession that helps others, like a doctor or lawyer.”

Lynch was founded in 1917 as a U.S. Steel mining operation. At its peak it was home to more than 10,000 people, but now in 2017 less than 700 live within its borders.

In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews


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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘We’re People – We’re Just Wired a Little Different.’



The weekend of July 29, 2017 brought the first gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer festival to Wheeling, West Virginia with several hundred attending the Ohio Valley Pride. We talked to some of the attendees about why they came to the event:

“Today, I was around people like me. I could be me.” – Andrea Potter

“We’re here to celebrate,” Katreina Kilgore explained her support of her daughter Andrea Potter. “We’re here to celebrate that she didn’t hold back, that she is going to be herself.”

The family lives in Moundsville, West Virginia.  “We struggle,” she said of the entire family’s acceptance, “that’s why I think I am so proud of her.”

Melinda Tober, left, of Windsor Heights, West Virginia came to Pride with Kael Thomas, and Chelsea Camcho of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“No body wants to live in the closet and I think that they shouldn’t have to.” – Melinda Tober

“I’ve been out and proud since 2010,” said Tober. “It’s always looked down upon — so hush, hush, “ she said, explaining that she believes the event such as this help to increase awareness and reduce hate crimes.

Hailee Parker, lives in Williamstown, West Virginia and grew up in Wheeling. She came to the event with her sister, Brittin Orum who lives in Wheeling. Parker performs as “Donte Dickles”.

“We’re people – we’re just wired a little different.” – Hailee Parker

“To be part of it. To walk around the streets in drag and part of the first pride – to just be home for the first time in a long time, “ Parker said. “This is my home. We both grew up here… I feel we have come very far. There are still nicks in the road, and it’s not the end of us fighting for equality… It upsetting to meet a person who is not supportive. All you can do is hold your head high and just leave it at that – with respect… Be yourself, love yourself. Hold your head high and forget what other people think of you.”

Miranda Thompson with daughter Ava Thompson, Terri Laquaglia, with daughter Regan Laquaglia and Maddie Crum attended the first Ohio Valley Pride together.

“Some people don’t understand that we all have to be equal so the world can be at peace.” – Regan Laquaglia

“We care about people and we know that no matter what that person thinks about us – underneath all their hatefulness there could be a good person. ” – Ava Thompson.

Landen Menough, of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio (stage name Miss Rilee Rae Michaels) was emcee of the event.

“If you leave here with one thing today, leave knowing that you are all family to me. You pick your own family and your family are the ones that accept you to no bounds of the earth.”— Landen Menough’s message to the crowd.

Andrew Vargo has lived in Wheeling, West Virginia all his life.

“There’s strength in numbers. We share love and companionship. We might not all get along, but we all share the same view of our rights… I see a ton of smiles, people from all sorts of places.” — Andrew Vargo

Jordan Sewell, aka “Xenus”, performs for the crowd at Heritage Port. 

“It takes guts to come out here in public in drag.” – Jordan Sewell

“Worrying about how to live day to day, being who you are and how you should show who you are — it’s hard,” explained Sewell. Today, “ it feels amazing, a feeling of completeness… I feel like I am now, a little bit – no, a lot more comfortable being who I want to be rather than what others want me to be. It takes guts to come out here in public in drag. Just doing it for the first time – walking out in pubic – outside,” was new. “Never outside, behind closed doors, yes.”

Jordan Sewell, with his mother, Rauslynn Platt as she films the performances. They live in Bridgeport, Ohio.

“I am not gonna hide I was heartbroken, but he’s my son – and my daughter. I’ll support whatever he wants to do in life. He seems so free. He’s so happy and that’s what I want to him to be, happy.” – Rauslynn Platt, Sewell’s mother

In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews

Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to correctly reflect that Jordan Sewell lives in Bridgeport, Ohio.

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