For Coal Valley News

SYLVESTER - Sylvester, West Virginia, is a town of less than 200 people, but it has been complimented by visitors and campaigners in the past as a beautiful place to live.

Manuel Pete Arvon became mayor of Sylvester in the year 1999, a position he held onto for two decades. Public service always had its place in his life. In fact, Sylvester's first city hall was in what would become a garage on Arvon's residence. While mayor, he worked for the small town by overseeing its development and repairs.

Earlier this year, Arvon announced that he would not be running for re-election, instead opting to settle down and enjoy the retired life with his loved ones. This serves as the end of a long career for Arvon that reaches back before he had ever taken the position of mayor.

Manuel Arvon was born on Oct. 26, 1929, along with his twin brother Nick. His parents, Pete and Beulah Arvon, were immigrants from Greece who had arrived in America together in the late 1920s. Being American was always a point of pride for his parents, who enjoyed decorating their home in red, white, and blue come time for holidays. Arvon describes their patriotism as a large factor in his and his siblings' passion for public service.

Though the family knew little English, the couple's children went on to work in government and education. In all, the family has produced over 30 teachers. Manuel himself served in the US Navy in 1951, during the Korean War. He returned home and became a teacher. After that, he moved from being principal of Sherman High School to being superintendent and, finally, Mayor of Sylvester.

Early in his tenure as mayor, Arvon worked to request state and external funding to take care of mudholes in and around Sylvester. Having three sons of his own that grew up in the town, Arvon has an appreciation for the area that fueled his determination to improve it.

Arvon's efforts proved successful when then-Governor Cecil H. Underwood devised a plan to improve small communities in West Virginia. Arvon requested aid in the form of sidewalks, pavement and drains.

Sylvester was given a $200,000 grant in order to see it through. From there, the town worked closely with the Boone County Commission and other agencies to get things done. Other ventures include the construction of the Sylvester Pavilion Park and a little league field.

The town's recent history has been eventful, even given its size. In one instance, citizens of the town were involved in a lawsuit with Massey Energy during Arvon's time as mayor. Sylvester, a place where people - including retired miners -lived relatively apart from the mines, had been blanketed by coal dust from the company's subsidiary Elk Run processing facility. Concerns from residents were raised on how the dust could affect their health, including that of senior citizens. Arvon recalled the successful lawsuit and the demonstrations from residents during the tumultuous period. In the end, the company was ordered by a judge to pay $473,000 in damages and additional money to the town itself.

Manuel Arvon is proud of Sylvester, saying that the people who have lived and passed through there have been wonderful. He added that one great accomplishment was seeing citizens' families through to a career path.

"Just about every person who had a family that was raised there ended up going through a college, university, or trade school," he said.

Each year, the town celebrates the anniversary of its founding on April 11, 1952, through games, wrestling, and music, something that will continue after Arvon's retirement.

Now that his mayoral duties are over, Arvon said that he looked forward to celebrating his 89th Fourth of July.

His successor, Harvey Ferrell, is a former student of Arvon and his wife, Lois Jean. Ferrell, who won Mr. Sherman during his time in high school, went on to be a valuable helper for the mayor.

"Harvey is certainly a very capable and intelligent person, and I'm sure he'll carry the mission of Sylvester, too, as long as there will be a Sylvester."

Arvon says he thanks God for being with him all the way, as well as family, friends, council members, and the people living in the town. Overall, he is happy that he was able to make a difference in his corner of the world.

"It was a joy to work with the kind of people that live there," Arvon says. "And the kind of people that served on the council. They were very receptive to ideas, we all worked as a team, and I'm sure each one is very proud of the accomplishments of that little town named Sylvester."