By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
After a career that took him from the coalmines of McDowell County to the city council chambers in Princeton, outgoing City Manager Wayne Shumate is ready to step back and retire.
In 1986, Shumate became Princeton’s public works administrator, and took on the duties of assistant city manager in 1992. Seven years ago, after City Manager Doug Freeman passed away, Shumate applied for the city manager position and was hired.
Shumate took some time Thursday morning to reflect on his career. His last working day as city manager was Friday when the city employees honored him with a cookout.
Originally from Pageton in McDowell County, Shumate graduated from Gary High School. His father, Darel Shumate, was a coal miner until he became disabled. After graduating from high school, Shumate decided to continue his education.
“I went to the Nashville Auto Diesel College, and my main reason for going there was that they had indicated they would get you a full-time job so you could work and go to school at the same time,” Shumate recalled. “A year later, I was a certified auto diesel mechanic.”
He was offered work at a diesel mechanic, but Shumate decided to go to work as a coal miner back in McDowell County because the pay was much better.
“I worked as an equipment operator at No. 4 Mine for U.S. Steel, and I did that for a year; and then I became a little bit disenchanted with it, so I went into the Air Force. That was in 1975.”
Shumate said this disenchantment occurred when he was running a shuttle car and unloading some coal. He came within inches of being buried under the coal.
“It made me think for a little bit. I loved the mining profession. It’s very dangerous, but it takes a very skilled person to do it; but being a young man and having that happen at the time made me want to rethink my options. As life plays out, things happen and you go back to work. I guess after maturing a bit and doing other things, I realized it was a good profession. I started working and planning to make that my career.
First, Shumate stared exploring those other options. After enlisting in the Air Force, Shumate had basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and later transferred to Chanute Air Force Base where he started training to be a jet engine mechanic.
“I was a jet engine mechanic rebuilding J-85 engines for the T-38,” he said. The aircraft was a supersonic jet training craft. The last place I was stationed was Webb Air Force Base in Big Springs, Texas. I was there a while and my father became sick. He had some cattle and was doing some farming in Abbs Valley, Va. I came home on a hardship (discharge) to take care of him, his business dealings and other business.”
Shumate went home to help his father and mother, Hazel Bostic Shumate, and worked to get his parents’ property in order and improve their house, but when that was finished, he needed to find employment again. Since he had experience with the industry already, he went back to the coal mining industry; this time, he stayed about three years.
“I worked at U.S. Steel No. 50 Mine in Pineville. I was an equipment operator in an underground coal mine,” he recalled. “Well, I think it was a matter of being young and adventurous, but I loved what I was doing in Pineville.”
While working in Pineville, Shumate started studying mining engineering full time at Bluefield State College. After getting married, he decided to try mining in the Salt Lake City area. By then, he was thinking about making mining his long-term career.
But first, he had to get to Salt Lake City. His grandfather helped by giving him a 1948 Studebaker truck. Shumate managed to get it running again and drove it from Pageton to Salt Lake City. The truck’s maximum speed was 55 mph, and the trip took him six days. There he found work in 1979 at an underground copper mine in Toole near Salt Lake City.
Copper mining is different from coal mining. Trace minerals, gold, silver, lead. Veins run vertically underground while coal seams run horizontally. Blasting was used to extract the minerals, and like coal miners, copper miners had to take precautions about dust getting into their lungs; in this case, it was silicate dust. While mining copper, Shumate continued to take classes.
“When I was in Utah at the underground copper mine, I was also enrolled full time at the University of Utah in their mining engineering program,” he said.
Shumate continued working at the company, Anaconda Minerals, until the recession of 1982. Before the closure, he was promoted several times, and his last position was project-scheduling engineer.
“There were three of us in the department and we used the critical path method of scheduling to schedule manpower, budgets and equipment for a 900-person operation,” he said.
When the mine was closed, he decided to take more classes. He attended the University of Utah and worked for almost a year at the Veterans Administration medical center in Salt Lake City. Eventually, he decided to return to West Virginia.
“So I was unemployed for a while. The decision was made and I came back to West Virginia,” he said. “I applied to West Virginia University and completed at four-year degree. It was a Regents Bachelor of Arts Degree with an emphasis on management.”
With the WVU degree completed, Shumate was hired by the U.S. Steel Mining Company and went to work as a foreman in the company’s No. 9 Mine at Gary. He worked there for 18 months until the company shut down all its McDowell County operations in 1986.
“In 1986 after the mines shut down, I was out of work for four months, and then I was fortunate enough to be hired by the city of Princeton as their public works director. I started on Dec. 1, 1986. I thought I would stay in that position approximately a year and then go back to the coal mining industry. The industry didn’t progress as quickly as I thought it would at that time and I stayed on here. Soon one year turned into two, five, and now 26 years later, I’m still here.”
Shumate said he stayed with the city of Princeton because he liked the people working with him.
“I really liked the employees and staff that work for the city,” he said. “And more than anything else, I liked the idea of doing a job that provided a service and a convenience to others.”
During those 26 years, Shumate had many duties.
“It’s kind of odd. I’ve been here 26 years, and out of those 26 years, I’ve been acting city manager approximately three years. The city manager’s job is not the most stable. I think the average tenure of a city manager is about five years now, but I was the public works director for 19 years and during those 19 years – during the first seven – I was given additional duties as the assistant city manager, and I did that approximately 12 years in conjunction with doing the public works job.”
“Seven years after Doug Freeman’s unfortunate passing, there was an opening here. I applied and I was fortunate enough that the city council hired me.”
When asked what he will miss most about being city manager, Shumate said he would miss the city’s other employees.
“I will especially miss the people. I think when you talk about accomplishments, I think my biggest accomplishment is the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve been able to work for in the city,” Shumate said.
Shumate did not have any immediate plans for retirement beyond spending time with his family and doing some home improvement projects. He is married to Connie Shumate, the former director of the Princeton Public Library, and has a stepdaughter, a stepson, a daughter and several grandchildren. He has been approached by some entities about doing some work.
Meanwhile, Shumate had some advice for the next city manager.
“Yes. To remember whom they work for — the citizens of Princeton,” he said.�