By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
There are many honors and awards one has a chance to earn in their lifetime, but to be referred to by West Virginia Living magazine as a West Virginia Wonder Woman is an honor very few get to claim. This is the fifth year the magazine has honored the states wonder women and women ran organizations, and to date has recognized two hundred and fifty women. “This class of Wonder Women inspires me and gives me great hope for the future of our state,” says WV Living Publisher and Editor Nikki Bowman. “After reading about each of these strong and influential women, one thing is for sure—we get things done. These women are movers and shakers, decision-makers, givers, and doers, and they are moving our state forward. We hope this issue inspires more women to step into leadership roles, reach back, and bring others along”, she expressed.
This year, Tucker County was honored with two outstanding individuals being named West Virginia Wonder Women and helping Tucker County become better known. Erika Smith, owner ofella in Thomas, was nominated along with around three hundred additional women from across the state. Smith was completely caught off guard when she discovered she was not only nominated, but selected by a board along with forty nine other women. “It was a really special surprise”, Smith smiled still in a state of disbelief.
Smith grew up in Parsons where she graduated from TCHS and pursued a degree in Interior Design at WVU. She studied a year of grad school in Historical Preservation and spent another year with the AmeriCorps working with the Appalachian Forest Heritage group as a part of the hands on Historic Preservation team. “I love history so much I wanted to learn how to save our historic treasures”, Smith stated, “I appreciate the stories and craftsmanship”.
Smith returned to Tucker County and moved to the Thomas area. She worked for a couple of years doing freelance work, planning weddings and other occasions before opening her storefront in 2016. “I moved to Thomas because there are a lot of things going on here”, Smith advised, “I am invested in this county”. Family is very important to Smith, therefore she wanted a meaningful name for her brick and mortar endeavor. “When thinking of a name, I wanted it to be nostalgic, a name meaningful to me”, she explained. Ellen is her middle name, after her late grandma and her young niece and nephews refer to her as “El”. Therefore, ella was decided for her shop name just to later discover she has another late great grandmother named Ella. “It’s a spin of heritage”, Smith smiled. “I work really hard to create this place and I love it here, its home. That’s who I am, this place is me, I am this place”, Smith detailed.
If you drive down Front Street in Thomas you will see a beautiful wooden sign inscribed in Smiths own handwriting reading ella. Inside you will find a multitude of antiques, vintage items, handmade crafts such as dried floral arrangements and wreaths, home goods, décor, and more. Smith also offers design ideas, wedding and event planning and design, and items available to rent. “I wanted a multifaceted business to combine all of my loves”, and that’s just what she has accomplished. “The things are not important, but the stories they bring are”, she stated. All of her items have come from multiple sources that she has collected, discovered on her treasure hunts, or from other dealers. “I stored all of my treasures in my Moms garage for the longest time, she couldn’t even park her car in it”, Smith laughed.
Smith is also active within the community serving on the Tucker Community Foundation and a member of the New Historic Thomas group. “You always want to make the community you live in brighter and better”, she added. “I am very thankful for that opportunity”.
The second nominee and award winner from our county is Diane Hinkle. Much like Smith, Hinkle was completely shocked to learn of her nomination. “They actually contacted Rob Burns with the Tucker Community Foundation trying to track me down”, Hinkle stated. Neither individual know who the nominations were submitted from, but both are quite honored.
Hinkle has been extremely involved with community events and her work over the years. She is a registered nurse by degree and was a home health nurse including one of the first two nurses hired at Cortland who then employed the first nursing staff. The Hinkle Funeral Home has been in her husband Scott’s family for over sixty years, which he took over from his family in 1993. Hinkle worked alongside her husband with the funeral home from 1993 through 2006, also serving as a volunteer on the TCF board. In 2006, she became an employee of the foundation through 2017 serving as the development director. “This provided me the opportunity to engage with organizations throughout an eight county region, but particularly within Tucker County”, Hinkle explained. In the fall of 2012, Hinkle was elected to serve as a county commissioner, where she took office in January of 2013.
To add to Hinkle’s impressive resume, she has also been involved with the Historic Landmark Commission, Tucker County Cultural District Authority, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, Heart of the Highlands, Tucker County Planning Commission, the Solid Waste Authority, and attended the Fire Association Meetings. Hinkle is a member of the United Methodist Church of Davis, helped establish the Mt. Top Cardinals 4-H club, and one of the founding members of the Junior Equestrian Team that also worked on fundraising efforts to build the horse barn at Camp Kidd. She has assisted many of these organizations with her grant writing skills to secure funds helping their cause. Hinkle is also the former project coordinator for Run for It through the TCF, worked with the Potomac Highlands Food and Farm Initiative and secured the grant to begin their market.
But the list doesn’t stop there. She has worked alongside the Town of Davis, the West Pocahontas and Dominion Foundation for enhancement projects like the Boulder Park, assists in raising support for the EMS, a member of the Canaan Women’s Club, the State Philanthropy WV Board, served on the Davis Health System Board, the Davis Health System Foundation Board, was the medical director at the Davis Center (currently known as the Rubenstein Center), and served on the Cortland Acres board for about twelve years.
“I don’t take credit for any of this, just the opportunity to work with these people”, Hinkle stated. “I’ve always been a passionate cheerleader for Tucker County. My goal is to make sure whatever project I get behind, it creates additional opportunities to those who live here”, she continued. “When you take a stand, you have to stand on it. It is never good to have a narrow field of view or tunnel vision”, she added. “Credit as a wonder woman goes to the community and groups behind it, including my husband Scott and my family”, she smiled. “It’s just an honor to represent all those hundreds of people I’ve had the opportunity to work with on projects over the years with commission”, Hinkle added.
Both Smith and Hinkle attended a banquet in Charleston in early October along with other recipients and past winners. Hinkle noted her two “co-pilots” Sandy Frank and Carol Gwinn graced her with their presence at the banquet as well. There were several other empowering women in attendance as well, including business owners, entrepreneurs, NASA scientists, and the first female football coach for West Virginia. “It was a really empowering event celebrating women across West Virginia making a difference”, Smith recalled. Surely this is an event that will be remembered by these two women for many years and we thank them for their contributions and dedications to our county.