Two unforgettable events occurred in the lives of Bob and Cay Wood last December. The first was the 30th anniversary of their brainchild, Hiawatha's, on Dec. 9, then, on Dec. 20 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Owning and operating Hiawatha's at its current location came by a long and varied route. Cay grew up in Charleston; Bob in Randolph County. She worked 15 years as an executive secretary for the chief engineer of United Fuel Gas Co. He worked 15 years for Piedmont, Capital and United Airlines at Charleston's Yeager Airport.
Bob yearned for his own business and started a trucking company in December 1969. Cay resigned from her job with United Fuel in 1970 to run Bob's office. They moved to Elkins in 1970 after winning a contract to haul stone for the construction of the four-lane section of U.S. 33 east of Elkins and to build a section of I-79.
STILL?IN?BUSINESS?AFTER?30 YEARS — ?Bob and Cay Wood, owners and operators of Hiawatha’s, celebrated their 30th business anniversary in December.
"At one time, we owned 20 Brockway dump trucks and five tractor-trailers," Cay said.
After a few years, Bob began hauling heavy equipment out of the factory in Kansas City back to Charleston and then to the coal company jobs in southern West Virginia. Cay drove a flag car and learned how to drive a tractor-trailer.
According to the Woods, they were on a trip through New Mexico and decided to buy a few Native American artifacts and jewelry and start a business.
"Thus on Dec. 29, 1978, Hiawatha's was born," Cay said.
When the gift shop opened, Cay said Bob started Hiawatha's Ski Shop. He operated it for about 10 years until the time when satellite TV started becoming popular.
For many years Bob installed satellite systems. He now sells video surveillance systems for homes and businesses.
"Hiawatha's first opened in the Tygart Valley Mini Mall, a bustling place at the time," Cay said. "Not long after we opened, we moved to a front-line business space vacated by a restaurant. With more space, we added clothing. Everyone wore down jackets in those days, I guess the winters were colder then, and since a lot of working men wore western boots and western shirts, those items were added to our inventory, too.
"We steamed hats, pressed letters onto belts, made license plates to the customer's specifications and also pressed on T-shirt transfers," Cay reminisced. "Looking back, I don't know how we got all that accomplished, but we did and it was fun."
In July 1983, the Woods were driving home from work and stopped by the building that Hiawatha's now occupies. They thought of how nice it would be to have all that space.
"We made an offer and upon closing, we moved there overnight with the help of family, friends and our hard-working employees. We worked all night that night, but we were young then, and it was fun," Cay said. "Immediately after getting settled in our new location, we got the idea of having some sort of statue in front of the building to let people know we had moved."
And that's when the Woods were struck with the idea of putting Minnehaha, legendary wife of Hiawatha, in front of the store.
"We provided Frank Ours of Parsons pictures of Indian maidens, clothing, jewelry and moccasins, and Frank sculpted our beautiful statue of Minnehaha," Cay said. "She has become an Elkins landmark. She is constantly used for directions to Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls - just turn onto Route 33 at the Indian statue."
According to Cay, the store has visitors from all over the world and she attributes that to Hiawatha's conspicuous location.
To celebrate the business' 30th anniversary, the Woods were looking for something special to do for the store's employees and their families. "That special something was an evening at the Elks Club enjoying the Lucky Enough show band. Most of those attending had never seen the show and felt that the local musicians who make up this show were absolutely tremendous," Cay said.
"We have always been fortunate to have dependable employees who have stayed with us for a long period of time," Cay said. "Two of our current employees, Diane Corley and Lea Coffman, have worked at Hiawatha's over 10 years. Mary Armentrout has been employed for two years, but she has been a friend for as long as we have been in business. We had one employee, Pam Kimble, who worked with a broken leg."
The Woods agreed that owning Hiawatha's has brought them many new friends, including their employees and those who shop with them.
"Retirement will obviously come some day," Cay said, "but not in the foreseeable future, especially as long as our business does as well as it is today."
Bob and Cay continue to search for vendors out west and travel to trade shows to find new and diversified products for Hiawatha's.
The celebration of their second big event in December, their 50th wedding anniversary, took place during late summer last year, according to Cay. "With weather being so unpredictable in December, our friends, Bob and Deb Snelson, surprised us with an anniversary party before winter set in," Cay said.
Hiawatha's, according to the Woods, is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.