By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
Fairmont hasn’t always had a city flag.
But if you go to the J. Harper Meredith Building, or travel up the connector, you’ll see it there on a flag pole, waving in the wind.
The city flag is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. And if you haven’t taken a look at it lately, you may want to look a little closer.
The flag was adopted June 5, 1984, after the city manager, Ed Daley, announced a city flag design contest. An independent judging panel selected the top three designs, and the city council picked the top design of those three to become Fairmont’s city flag.
The big winner in that contest was Fairmont native, Janice Watts.
Watts said she remembers the contest fondly.
“I thought, ‘Well, shoot, I’ll enter that.’ So I did,” Watts laughed. “They told you what you had to do, and the size and everything. All the designs were put on display with an independent judging panel, and then the three top finalists got a $50 savings bond.”
As the winner of the contest, Watts was also presented with a copy of the new city flag, which was the same as the one flying by the J. Harper Meredith Building, save one detail: it also has a gold fringe around it.
“There are probably a lot of folks who don’t even know I did this,” Watts laughed.
The flag is on a white background, printed in yellow, black, red and blue. There is a golden circle in the center of the flag, appropriately representing friendship in “the Friendly City,” Fairmont’s nickname.
Inside the circle, Fairmont’s three rivers come together, with the Tygart Valley River and West Fork joining together to form the Monongahela River. There is also a miner’s pick and shovel, representing Fairmont’s ties to the coal industry.
Watts said she thought hard about how she would create her design.
“It was kind of hard, but I thought, what are we known for?” Watts said.
After she won the flag design contest, the flag was put on display Aug. 30, 1984, at a ceremony at East-West Stadium for Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton, who had just finished her gold-medal winning performance at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Watts got to present the flag to Retton herself.
“It is with great honor that I present this flag to you,” Watts said to Retton that day. “With this flag (go) our love and prayers for your continued success. I was the designer of the Fairmont city flag, but you put Fairmont, West Virginia, on the map.”
“She was a classmate of my daughter’s,” Watts remembered.
The flag was also used in a time capsule and was presented to a Russian delegation to Fairmont State College.
She said her friends still mention it to her when they drive past her flag.
“Some of my friends said, ‘Oh, you know, I came over that new road, and I saw your flag flying over there! How wonderful. And I can say she made that flag,’” Watts said.
The flag wasn’t Watts’ first foray into design.
“I always liked to do things like design,” Watts said. “Some of my friends and I had some businesses.”
She and her friends started a company called “We Three,” in which they designed ornaments and plaques, and then made them out of salt dough.
“You bake it in the oven for hours and hours,” Watts said. “I have lots of Christmas ornaments.”
Later, she and her friends started the “Cookie Boutique.”
“We baked cookies, mostly chocolate chip ones,” Watts said. They would wrap the cookies in paper and tie them with ribbons. Then they would take a cup, put styrofoam inside, and put the cookies in the cup to look like flowers. They would even deliver the cookies, and were especially busy around holidays like Valentine’s Day.
“That was fun, but I got tired of making cookies and running all over town,” Watts said.
She and her friends also started “Thread Counters,” and they did cross-stitching and needle point.
Watts said she also designed several wall hangings.
“One is big and called ‘Celebration,’ and it has all the seasons of the church year,” Watts said. The two other wall hangings in the series were titled “Disciples” and “Beatitudes.”
Watts said she has always liked to keep busy.
“I like doing things. I used to do more of it,” Watts said.
Though she is 80, Watts still works full time at Fairmont State University, acting as advisor for the Regents Bachelor of Arts degree students, and as secretary for the Leadership Marion program.
She said she loves what she does.
“The RBA degree is a nontraditional degree that has been in the state since 1975,” Watts said. “We mainly have students (who) have been in school and out, and now they want to finish. And this is a good way for them to, because this has no major or minor.
“And a lot of companies don’t care if your degree is called X-Y-Z. If you have a four-year degree, you can get a better job.”
The Leadership Marion program works to empower residents to be more involved in their local community in Fairmont. The monthly classes last one school year, from August to May.
“They go and visit all the different companies and businesses and things,” Watts said.
Watts, born Oct. 11, 1933, has spent all of her life in Fairmont.
“I live almost a stone’s throw from where I grew up,” Watts said. “I really like this town. I just think it’s good to still be here. You know a lot of people.”
Watts married her husband, Royal, almost 48 years ago. They have a daughter who lives in Potomac Falls, Va., and three stepgrandchildren.
They also have two cats, Sophia and Tigger.
Watts said she’s still very proud of her contributions to Fairmont, through designing the city flag.
“You know it’s your heritage. You know you did this, and there it is. And you can see it if you go down Jackson Street, right there on a flag pole.”
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.