Todd Heslep of Parkersburg feels fortunate to be playing music with his family in The Ebert Brothers band.
In July 2009, Heslep underwent surgery for brain cancer, followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
The cancer is now gone, Heslep said, and he has returned to work as a chef at a local restaurant.
Heslep, 49, sings and plays the guitar with The Ebert Brothers, formed in 1967 and based in New Martinsville.
"It is fun to play with them," Heslep said this week. "We play old-time country music."
The country band was started by brothers Norbert, Ray and Gary Ebert - Heslep's uncles. Heslep is pleased he got to play a few times with Norbert, who died in July 2009, a week after Heslep was diagnosed with cancer.
Heslep's mother, Pat, sings with her brothers in the band. Heslep said he grew up watching The Ebert Brothers' shows, on his father Jerry's knees, at the historic Lincoln Theater in New Martinsville.
Todd Heslep, who has one of Norbert's seven fiddles, joined the band about three years ago.
"Todd is an excellent singer," Ray Ebert said. "He is one of the area's best-kept secrets. Todd had been too busy to play with The Ebert Brothers. He has gone over well."
Before he died, Norbert asked Ray to continue the "family-type" variety shows at the Lincoln. The Ebert Brothers used to perform at fairs and festivals, for civic organization dances, fundraisers and at West Virginia state parks.
Ray, 72, remembers playing music with his brothers at square dances when he was 12 years old.
The Ebert Brothers will be playing at 7 p.m. March 19 at the Lincoln Theater as part of the band's country variety show. It will be about a three-hour show filled with local talent, Heslep said.
Ray noted Brad Paisley and Lionel Cartwright performed at the Lincoln variety shows as youngsters. Ray said he modeled his mandolin playing after musician Blaine Stewart, the father of West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart.
"I am so blessed to share the stage with such fine musicians and continue the family tradition," Heslep said.
"We are a close-knit family," said Shirley Ebert, Norbert's widow.
Matt Baker has moved from river level to the top of the mountain in his management career with the West Virginia State Parks and Forests system.
The former assistant superintendent at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, Baker was named superintendent of Coopers Rock State Forest near Morgantown a year ago. The forest covers 12,713 acres, some of which are leased by the West Virginia University Division of Forestry, at a top elevation of 2,200 feet.
Baker noted Coopers Rock State Forest, which is bisected by Interstate 68, is popular with mountain bikers, hikers, runners, rock climbers and those just wanting a spectacular view of Cheat River Gorge from Coopers Rock overlook. The gate to drive into Coopers Rock is opened on April 1. Camping is available.
The state forest is a focal point for the outdoor recreational activities of some WVU students, Baker said. It also serves as a "welcome center" for people entering the state from nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Baker, 32, and his wife, Holly, enjoy living in the state forest in a 1930s' log house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
"I keep in touch with the staff at Blennerhassett State Park," said Baker, who spent 4.5 years here. He helped with the deer hunt on the island last fall.
Baker doesn't miss the high water that can plague Blennerhassett Island. But then again, he said he spent last March moving several feet of snow with a front-end loader to open the forest road.
Contact Paul LaPann at firstname.lastname@example.org