October Sky Rocket Boys Festival set to launch from new pad
October 5, 2012 ·
After facing possible cancellation, the festival is planned to continue this weekend, just away from home. The festival will happen in Beckley instead of the sleepy town of Coalwood.
The festival honors Homer Hickam, one of the Rocket Boys from Coalwood. He’s from McDowell County and grew up to become a Vietnam veteran, NASA engineer and American author.
He says he wrote the book, Rocket Boys, to give readers a glimpse into what life was like during the 1950’s in the coal camp town of Coalwood.
“Some people believed that the way of life there was dying," Hickam explained, "and parents and teachers wanted to prepare their children to leave."
"So that is the underlying conflict in the story is how these Rocket Boys were reaching toward the future but there feet were in the past and the people and the teachers were preparing them to take the steps to go onto to a better life.”
The story of Hickam and his friends winning the 1960 national science fair is read in classrooms in West Virginia and around the world and continues to offer hope and inspiration.
“I was at the Air Force Academy making a speech last year," he said, "and I had at least a dozen cadets come up and tell me that they were there because of me. You know it’s not really me. They were there because of either the movie or the book and it has inspired them to aim high. And there they were at the Air Force Academy so yeah that makes me feel really good.”
For 13 years, his hometown has celebrated the story of Hickam and the rest of the Rocket Boys with a festival. But last year, with a lack of resources, interest, and man power, organizers were forced to cancel the event.
“Nobody was stepping up to volunteer to take it over,” he said.
Until the city of Beckley decided to offer a plan to have it at the Exhibition Coal Mine.
“I was quite frankly reluctant at first because it’s not Coalwood,” he said, “but I asked them well let me just see your plan and they did they came up with a great plan.”
Leslie Baker is the Director of operations at the Exhibition Coal Mine Complex. She says reaching out to the original organizers was important.
“We’ve reached out to those citizens," Baker said, "and they’re going to come and we’ve invited them all and they’re going to be VIPs that day and they even get to wear special hats if they’ve ever had anything to do with the festival before."
"But being an event planner I know how much time and energy it takes. And that was a dedicated group of volunteers that had done it for several several years and interest had been waning and people just get tired. I think that after the initial disappointment that they were losing it I think that they’re pleased that we’re going to carry on and continue with it.”
Baker points out the resources available at the complex.
“When children come to see him and they can see our Rocket Boy video and we can talk about the stars in a way that they never could at Coalwood because we actually have a planetarium," she said.
"We’ve got a bigger area we’ve got more people involved and so I think it will be a legacy that everybody will be very pleased with.”
Originally the money from the festival went to help activities for young people in Coalwood but the small town didn’t lose all the benefits of the festival. As Hickam suggested any money generated from the Beckley event will be go back into the festival, the United Way of Southern West Virignia, and the Coalwood Restoration Group.
The 2012 October Sky Rocket Boys Festival begins at 9:00 a.m. and lasts until 5:00 p.m. at the Exhibition Coal Mine Complex in Beckley.
Hickam and the rest of the Rocket Boys will be there to sign books. Other activities include meet and greets with NASA scientists, a gospel sing, robotics demonstrations and a rocket launching competition.