The flow of Hurricane Florence evacuees to Oglebay began trickling into Wheeling on mid-morning Friday last week.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Wheeling, Oglebay opened its arms and hosted those displaced by the hurricane, which hit the Carolinas.
Normally, Wilson Lodge hosts vacationers, families, business groups and organizations. But on this particular weekend, it offered complimentary accommodations to help those in need.
James Hess of Surfside Beach, S.C., did so toting motorcycles. With him were his wife, her son, Hess’ brother and his fiancée.
“People started sharing the news on Facebook like crazy,” said James Hess of Oglebay’s offer. “They said rooms would be free until the 20th. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’”
When the dust settled — or when the wind and rain stopped — 41 visitors had taken advantage of the offer. Some guests were placed in lodge guestrooms while others stayed in the cottages, according to Lindsey McGlaughlin, Oglebay’s marketing manager.
Hess certainly knew how to get to Oglebay. He grew up in Valley Grove.
“Everybody talks about southern hospitality,” said Hess. “This shows there’s northern hospitality, too. They’re taking care of us.”
One could tell Hess was moved. He spread his arms toward some of the 2,000 manicured acres situated in northern West Virginia. “It’s a beautiful place,” said Hess. “It’s not like we were invited to a one-star motel somewhere. It’s fantastic.”
Hess took a sip of his latte.
“I’m drinking an I-don’t-know-what-it-is,” he said with a chuckle, “but it’s awesome.”
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Hess said his journey to Oglebay lasted about 10 hours.
“It was actually good that we waited a couple days after the evacuation,” said Hess. “It was mandatory for all zones. All lanes were outbound. You couldn’t come in. But since we waited all the congestion was gone. It was free runnin’. We just grabbed as many clothes as we could, threw them in the truck, with as many valuables, papers, stuff like that, and went.”
What awaits the South Carolina resident when he returns is anyone’s guess.
“I’m not sure,” said Hess. “I’m trying not to think about it, to be honest. But it’s all over Facebook and the news, so we’re going to see it anyway.”
He paused before restarting with a shake of the head.
“Where we live, a 5-foot storm surge would be over our house,” Hess said. “I’m hoping we have somewhere to go back to.”
Then he smiled.
“If not, I know we have enough friends and family to help us out,” said Hess. “We got out. And that’s all that matters.”
Indeed, he was safe — and touched by a little northern hospitality.
Weelunk is proud to have Oglebay as a generous supporter.