It’s a Chicken Cobb salad. The ingredients are supposed to be scattered about and pretty much everywhere within the bowl.
But Erikka Storch wouldn’t stand for it. The tomatoes have to be here, the hard-boiled egg there, the chicken chunks in the middle next to the pushed-over lettuce, and the croutons on the bowl’s brim while awaiting the destroying crunch.
But Storch is also a wife, a mother of three, the president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, and one of two lawmakers who represents most of Ohio County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, so her tomatoes and her egg and the chicken and the croutons need to be where she puts them. She knows they are there then.
It’s about keeping track.
Balance, as if perched on a single long leg.
“I really don’t think I am too organized, and you would say that if you saw my office in our home,” she said with a chuckle. “I just need to accomplish a lot most days because of all the hats I’m wearing right now, so I guess that spreads to other things sometimes. I didn’t even realize I did that, to be honest with you.
“As far as my legislative role is concerned, it is difficult sometimes when your office is 180 miles away from where you live,” Storch continued. “That can be challenging, but that’s when I get more ideas about how to better organize things like that.”
It’s about keeping life’s teeter totter level, she explained, and it’s been tough recently because each of her three children has scaled the ladder once again, and all of a sudden she’s delivered her oldest to the University of Kentucky for his first year of college, and her youngest is now in fourth grade at Wheeling Country Day and will celebrate her first double-digit birthday next month.
The middle child? Alexis is now a junior at The Linsly School and competed this summer in the Miss West Virginia Teen Pageant.
Storch’s plate is full. No wonder she separates her food.
“There are times when I get frustrated when there’s nothing I can do about this issue or that issue, and sometimes I get frustrated because of how much I have to do as the Chamber president, as a mother, and as one of two delegates that represent the Third House District,” Storch admitted. “But I also don’t want to wish away my life by wishing to get past the frustrating times, so that’s when I just slow down and get everything done.
“And there are times when your life is not private at all, and that’s something I knew before I was elected the first time. But I am thinking of setting up office hours so it can become a little more structured,” she explained. “That way I wouldn’t have to worry about that taking away from family time or job time. That may be the best way to go about it.”
Storch has been the president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce for 14 months and has come to realize that changes need to be made. One example involves the Chamber’s annual dinner, an event that welcomed actor Glenn Morshower to the Friendly City on Sept. 2.
“Now that I have been in my position for every event that the Chamber has held, I’ve had the chance to see how those events have been operated,” Storch said. “It’s allowed me to observe and come up with ways that we can make those events even better. And there are definitely some things that are going to be changing.
“I’ve started to feel some vesting in some of the events and things are not going to stay with the status quo. We’re not going to keep some things the way they’ve always been,” she continued. “Take our annual dinner as an example. I didn’t change much for this year, but this was the year that I made a list of the changes that will be made for next year’s annual dinner.”
One alteration she wishes to navigate concerns community recognition via the Kathy Fortunato Award, an honor that is bestowed on a person for contributions to improving the quality of life in the Wheeling area. Fortunato, before tragically passing away in July 2006, was a most active member of the Wheeling community.
“I think we have kept the Kathy Fortunato Award a secret of sorts, and I believe that needs to change down the road,” Storch said. “I don’t really understand that. She was a great lady and a great community leader, so I would like to see better promotion about that award.
“This year’s winner was Jay Adams for his contributions to youth soccer in this area, and what he started all the way back in 1987 has grown and grown and is something very important to a lot of people,” she continued. “But hardly anyone knows he was the honoree, and that has to change. I like that we have the award because people like Jay deserve the recognition, but I would like to see us get that news out to the public more than what’s been accomplished in the past.”
Her son Seth was very active athletically while attending The Linsly School, and he was an excellent student as well. He had spent a lot of time making his decision about where he would continue his education, and he chose Kentucky over his mother’s alma mater.
Instead of having a mere 90-minute trip to Morgantown, the move to Lexington means more than a five-hour drive.
“I blame my brother Chris for Seth’s decision to attend the University of Kentucky because he’s the UK grad, and that’s whom Seth visited the campus with,” Storch said. “I’m not actually sure what Seth saw or what they did, but I do know that he developed a love for a restaurant called, ‘Raising Cane’s.’ Chicken tenders, French fries, and garlic bread – all his favorites.
“The University of Kentucky had what he wanted, and that’s why he chose it over WVU. When it boils down to it, there’s so much growth and so much opportunity there, and a lot of their campus is now new,” she continued. “He’s the first person to live in his dorm, and he has fantastic living arrangements. That’s a big deal to a person his age.
“He has granite counter tops and a Tempurpedic mattress that’s extra long, so he’ll never come home now. And when it came down to communicating with West Virginia University, they couldn’t find him housing. Plus, their dorms are very, very old, and that made a difference, too.”
No longer is her son at home eating everything in sight or taking three to four showers per day or making sense out of his disaster-area bedroom, and Storch misses the grocery store and water bills and even that unmade bed.
“I worry about him all of the time, but I worried about him when he was here, too. That’s what a mother does,” she said. “I first starting thinking about his leaving when he was approaching his graduation from Linsly, and then at the beginning of August it really sunk in. Oh my gosh, he’s leaving.
“Roots and wings, that’s all I can say. We’ve given him the roots, and now it’s time to test the wings. I hate it but that’s where he is in his life,” Storch continued. “At least my youngest (Payton) tells me she’s going to an online college so she never has to leave me, and I’m perfectly OK with that.”
It’s about his perspective maturing, she insisted, so he may follow some path that presents itself while outside his hometown and his native state. Seth has continued seeking his mother’s knowledge, and sometimes it’s not surprising, and other times it’s frightening, too.
“I had the chance to pursue in my life what I have pursued, and now it’s his turn to do that, and that’s only fair,” she said. “I am in West Virginia now, but I left the state and came back. I think it’s good to get that perspective in your life. There’s a big world out there.
“It may get really small at times, but I want him to be exposed to opportunities, and this is what he figured out for himself,” she said. “He still texts me all of the time looking for Mom advice. He asks a lot of questions about laundry like how do I get mud out of my jeans or my favorite: ‘How do I get red wine out of my shirt.’ I really loved getting that one, let me tell you.”
When it comes to representing most of Ohio County as a member of the House of Delegates, Storch is a Republican, the party that now holds the majority in both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature. As a lawmaker, though, her votes are not determined by party but instead by the people of the Third District.
A prime example was the vote she cast concerning the legalization of force pooling, a practice of the gas and oil industries that permits the companies to drill under land not leased with the property owner. Although a vast majority of House GOP members voted in favor of the legalization, her vote was the same as her Democratic colleague, Del. Shawn Fluharty. The final tally was 49-49, and that meant forced pooling died.
“It’s my responsibility to be a voice for our area, and constituents contact me all of the time,” Storch said. “Some of those concerns will translate into legislation and some will translate into making connections. Those are things you have to do to resolve the issues that those constituents have.
“I do everything I can to respond to each and every citizen who contacts me,” she said. “I’ve been contacted about vaccinations, public health, and about the fracking activities, and believe it or not, I’ve had a few people who have told me that the state needs forced pooling. I’m not sure of their motivation, but apparently that’s something some people believe. It’s not what I believe, but some do.”
She acknowledged, though, that she expects a time to arrive when she no longer will be a state representative either because the majority of voters will choose another individual or she realizes her tenure has extended long enough. When that day will arrive is not clear at this time, but Storch is confident someday it will.
“I’m not a career lawmaker. It may sound cliché, but it’s been an honor that I have been elected to represent the people of the Third District. I do worry, though, that some people will begin looking at me and thinking that I’ve been in office for a long time, so I must be a part of the problem,” she explained. “It is important to me to be that voice, and I agonize with people who have so many issues because of bureaucrats who think they know what’s better for our citizens than even an elite team of physicians. That kind of stuff keeps me going.
“There are times when I temper my hostilities with issues like vaccinations,” Storch admitted. “I don’t want to say I take those things personally, but at the same time I can identify with those people because of all the issues we’ve experienced as a family. Plus, I know these people. We’re neighbors. So I guess it is personal in many ways.”
So how long is long enough?
“There are several goals I still have, and I remain irritated with a lot of different issues, but I have had a lot of my colleagues who have told me that I will know when that time arrives. They have told me that they knew, and that’s why they decided not to run again,” Storch said. “Those people have served the state for the right reasons.
“When that notion hits my brain, I am sure I will take a look around and see what’s best for the people in the Third District and what’s best for me and my family. But right now there’s work to do, and that’s what I plan to do.”
And crunch went the last crouton.
(Photos supplied by Del. Storch; cover photo by Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislature Photography)