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Innerviews: Goldenseal editor shines in 'dream job'

To some, he will always be Doug Bumgardner’s son, scion of the longtime owner of Charleston’s iconic Kanawha Coin Shop. But 52-year-old Stan Bumgardner is very much his own man.

He made a separate name for himself as a barefoot musician, fervent historian and writer. The distinctive identity continues now in his “dream job” as editor of the state’s glossy quarterly magazine, Goldenseal. He also serves aptly as state folklife director.

His mother, a piano teacher, instilled an appreciation for music early on. Both parents encouraged his passion for history.

On his way to Goldenseal guru, equipped with history degrees from Marshall and WVU, he moved through a series of jobs, including director and creative director during the development of the state museum.

An affable, engaging demeanor helps him woo and nurture Goldenseal contributors, but he most enjoys researching and writing articles on his own. The lead story in the upcoming issue, a tribute to the Farmington mine disaster, carries his byline.

Reviewing the tragedy tugged at his heartstrings, a sad but rewarding labor of love.

“I am Doug Bumgardner’s son. When someone hears my name, they say it sounds familiar. I say, ‘Do you collect coins?’ And they say they used to, and I will say, ‘Well, that’s my dad.’

“I grew up in Kanawha City. I’m an only child. Apparently it’s noticeable.

“My father worked virtually seven days a week running the coin shop or going to coin shows. He was always on the go.

“When I was real young, he worked at Morris Harvey College and was dean of men and director of community affairs and the student union. He brought in a lot of folk acts and steel drum bands.

“He started the Kanawha Coin shop in 1962 beside the old State Theater. He started it basically as a retirement hobby for his dad. His father had worked as a mail carrier for nearly 40 years and had a heart attack and had to retire. He and my father were both into coins, and my grandmother as well. I still have my grandmother’s coin collection.

“He moved to Fife Street in ’77. He had barely moved in when they decided to turn it into Brawley Walkway and they closed the street. He rented a place on Summers Street for a couple of years, then came back to Fife when they got that job done. So it’s been there for 40 years now.

“I spent a good part of every summer in the shop. I was 8 years old and he gave me jobs I could handle. I stapled my first coin in a holder when I was 5, but I didn’t learn as much about the coin business as he would have wanted me to.

“We’ve gone back to the coin roots of it now — coins, currency, precious metals and jewelry. He branched out into antiquities and historic objects. He was renting places all over town to to keep the antiques he had.

“At one point, I thought I would take over the coin shop, but I realized I didn’t have my father’s mind for that. He had a photographic memory. At one point, I wanted to be a teacher. Then I thought I’d just get a business degree.

“I always loved history. My parents encouraged that. My mother went grudgingly to Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields with me. She liked biographies of people and we went to presidents’ homes.

“My father loved it all. The coin business was an extension of his love for history. He would get these ancient coins that you can get very affordably and give them out to kids. He was afraid coin collecting was going to be an older person’s hobby and wanted to get kids involved. When someone would bring their kid in the shop, he would give them coin books and show them how to set them up.

“I started playing piano when I was 4 and violin when I was 7. My mother was a piano teacher. She graduated from the old Mason School of Music. She taught at Gorby’s. She essentially retired when I was born.

“I value both my parents for a lot of reasons. When my mother quit teaching piano, I was her whole life, so everything she did revolved around me. We spent a lot of time together.

“My father worked so much. In some ways, I didn’t get to know him as well as I wanted to. But he would get home from work at 8 at night, and in the summer, even before dinner, he would take time to pitch me wiffle ball and we played chess and other games. I got divorced in 2010 and my mother had passed away less than a year before, and I moved in with him. I got to know him a lot better and certainly got to know more about the business.

“My mother taught me piano my first year. By age 5, I had the attitude that I knew more than my mother. She knew I needed a teacher I couldn’t talk back to. So I took lessons from Wayne Eich. I took violin from John Lambros and it stayed with me more than the piano.

“I don’t like wearing shoes ever, especially when I’m playing music. I’ve been playing barefoot so long that I don’t understand how people can play with their shoes on.

“Very few musicians I know can make a living with music. So I went to Marshall and got my degree in history. Then I went straight to WVU and got a master’s in public history. I graduated in ’89.

“I worked for a couple of years at Harpers Ferry at the national park. I got to learn hands-on history in one of the most historic places in the country. Doing research on Harpers Ferry history, I worked in a building that was part of Storer College, the first black college in the old South.

“I came to Charleston and worked on the West Virginia history film for a couple of years. I’ve had a lot of jobs. I worked in the state archives and for the Appalachian Educational Laboratory writing and editing and got a chance to come back here and work for Sharon Mullins and work on the museum project. She retired shortly after I came back. I worked eight and a half years on that project. I started as the acting museum director when Sharon retired.

“I got discouraged many times that the project wasn’t going to happen, so I quit and came back later as creative director. That was a lot more fun. I wasn’t supervising 49 people and could focus on the museum. I was creative director until it opened.

“I get burned out sometimes on what I’m doing musically. The first time I quit was when I went to WVU. I didn’t touch it for two years and decided that part of my life was over.

“One day in Harpers Ferry, it was raining on a Saturday, so I went to the 7-Eleven and got a six-pack of beer and came back and put on the Allman Brothers. That was kind of like Bach and I got my violin out and started playing along. I knew then I could play other than classical.

“That opened up a whole period of my life where I got to play other music. I play the violin whatever way people asked me to play it. I even played in a Grateful Dead cover band.

“I’ve written two books, one for the Children’s Home Society in 1996 and a history of Charleston illustrated through old postcards in 2006.

“All but about five or six postcards I got from my father. He had easily more than 100,000 postcards. They weren’t all West Virginia. It took more time to pick out the historic ones of Charleston than it did to write the book.

“I still go to the shop about once a week. Scott Burger, my cousin, operates it. It’s his thing now. He worked for my father for probably 20 years.

“We sold off a lot of things. We sold off a bunch of comic books that 20 years ago had more value. People were collecting baseball cards and comic books. It got too popular. Even when I was in college, I had a booth where I would sell and trade baseball cards.

“Baseball card companies glutted the market. Now, even cards of really good players are only worth a few dollars.

“For about a year, I worked as a grant writer in Huntington while living in Charleston, making that drive every day. This job came open and I applied.

“There have only been four editors. This is a coveted job. John Lilly and Ken Sullivan were editors for 36 years. Tom Screven was editor for four.

“They asked me during the interview, ‘What is your goal, your stamp on Goldenseal?’ My answer was, ‘You don’t screw it up.’ Everybody loves Goldenseal.

“We just wanted to keep it as is, people telling their stories. This is the best job I’ve ever had. When I started, I had this panic moment that I would never have enough stories.

“The readers send in 90 percent of the stories. Sometimes I will get an idea. The upcoming issue comes out a month and a half or so before the 50th anniversary of the Farmington mine disaster. There have been some horrible tragedies in West Virginia and we have to commemorate them.

“Our September issue is going to be dedicated entirely to Farmington. One of our contributors in Fairmont knew so many stories and places where we could track down stories. We have some stories that have never been told.

“It’s very depressing work writing about a tragedy, but it’s also been very rewarding. People all had their own stories not just about what they did, but those nine days of waiting as workers tried to rescue the miners. Probably half the magazine is about those nine days.

“This is the most hands-on I’ve been with any issue. I write one or two things in every issue. The rest of the time I’m essentially a copy editor. I spend a lot of time talking authors through their stories. ‘I need that but in a third [fewer] words.’ I’m very good with a red pencil.

“This is my dream job. I’ve always loved history from the time I was a kid. To be able to have a regular job and a paycheck where I can just sit and write and copy edit West Virginia history is something I couldn’t have imagined as a kid. If I had known it existed as a kid, this is what I would have wanted to be.

“I do a lot of things, and I bring mediocrity to a lot of things. But love of history drives me in this job.”

Reach Sandy Wells at sandyw@wvgazettemail.com or 304-342-5027.

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