Homesteader Descendent Profile: Terry Day
Terry Day’s father, Robert, “Bob,” Day, called Arthurdale “Utopia.” For Terry Day, a homesteader descendent on both sides of his family, growing up in Arthurdale was a treasure that he did not fully appreciate until years later. Both sets of Terry’s grandparents, the Rebers and the Days, were original homesteaders who came to Arthurdale in the 1930’s. I spoke with Terry via Zoom to find out what it was like growing up in “Eleanor’s Little Village.” More than anything, what he took away from those years was the great sense of family, neighbors, and hard work.
In a poem that Terry wrote about the founding of Arthurdale, he captures this idea of community in the lines: “A new heritage then arose, / celebrating success and family legacies. / Bringing homesteaders together, neighbors close.” For Terry’s family, Arthurdale has been a place to call home. His father was one of several men from Arthurdale who served in World War II, and after the war, he returned home to Arthurdale where he married Edna Reber Day. For a time, the young family lived in different places in Reedsville and Arthurdale before settling permanently on the SR-5 homestead where Terry grew up. As a child, Terry would visit grandparents, cousins, friends, and neighbors around Arthurdale. One of his favorite memories was just walking the streets of the town with his friends, talking and reminiscing and, rarely, getting into some trouble as well – something that Terry said is difficult for adolescent and teenage boys to avoid entirely. After graduating from Valley High School in 1967 and attending WVU for three years, Terry graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and moved with his wife to New Jersey where they would raise their family. But Arthurdale and the community here remained something that Terry could not fully leave, and he made frequent trips home with his family so that his sons too could experience the wonderful place where Terry grew up.
The history classes Terry took in school, even those on United States and West Virginia history, failed to mention the legacy of Arthurdale and other Homestead Communities, but Terry maintains that this place is an important part of history that deserves to be remembered. The creation of Arthurdale Heritage, he said, was visionary, and he is hopeful that the legacy of the original Arthurdale project can be continued by AHI and those who work there rather than falling prey to apathy. Although Arthurdale’s history may be overlooked in standard curricula, the people who know about it are often excited to know more. Living in New Jersey, Terry has met numerous people who have come across mentions of Arthurdale in books about Eleanor Roosevelt or the New Deal and who, upon learning that Terry grew up here, are excited to talk to him about it. Terry would often boast to them that he actually met Eleanor and shook her hand when she came to the dedication of the Community Presbyterian church of Arthurdale. Even from several states away, Arthurdale remains an important part of Terry’s life.
In thinking about his future as a young adult, Terry had to decide between going to art school or pursuing a Pre-Med track at WVU. Ultimately, after choosing Pre-Med, he switched to Radiology/Nuclear Medicine Technology and embarked on a 45+ year career in the healthcare field at the local hospital in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Now though, Terry’s interests have come full circle as creates some of the beautiful pieces sold in our craft shop at Arthurdale Heritage. From his parents and grandparents, Terry learned self-sufficiency and how to work with his hands. These skills allowed him to become a mostly self-taught artist, though Terry does give credit to what he learned from shop class with Charlie Helmick at Valley Junior High.
When I asked Terry if he had any favorite items that he made for the craft shop, he mentioned a few different things that draw on his love of Arthurdale. His paintings, which can be found in the craft shop, are something he is particularly proud of because he only began painting again in 2019, after a brief go at it in 1989. Terry is a self-taught artist who was inspired by Arthurdale and painted scenes inspired by the area. We have also been very fortunate to receive miniature Co-Op tractors that Terry made based on pictures of the real tractors that were made in Arthurdale between 1939-1940. Finally, Terry mentioned his poem, “Arthurdale.” By Terry’s own account, he’s not much of a poet, but the words to this poem came to him in a dream, and he had the foresight to write them down before he forgot.
“We’re part of history,” Terry said in talking about Arthurdale. The family roots and lifelong friends that tie him to this place are something that Terry values, and we at Arthurdale Heritage are honored to maintain a connection with Terry and to see all the beautiful art that he continues to make. As Terry says in his poem, the homesteaders came to Arthurdale to forge a better life, and we continue today to celebrate and preserve their legacies. “It didn’t occur to me until later on what treasures we had,” Terry said, but he is very grateful today to have grown up here and to help continue the legacy of Arthurdale for future generations.
Terry Day’s items in the craft shop will be on special display for our holiday open house, which will begin on December 6. We hope you stop in and take a look around!