LEGACY: Trapped No More – A Family’s Rewritten Story

Yesterday's Nightmare - Breaking the Chains -

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Group_of_Breaker_boys._CMYKChildren of coal miners in the 1930s hardly enjoyed the joie de vivre of adolescence. Theirs was a short childhood, often abruptly transitioning to coal-mine work when they were hardly teenagers. Boys were expected to be mining, while girls tended to factory jobs that would have them traversing countryside by train and logging desperately long days.

Fathers often would be absent for long periods of times and mothers had endless chores. Coal-mining families’ lives were unstable. They moved from city to city as they followed the coal veins across the rural landscape.

This is the life from which Bill Snedden narrowly escaped.

The Seminal Moment
Dr. Bill Snedden has achieved the highest level of education possible. He’s earned degrees from America’s finest engineering schools. He worked for General Electric for decades. He became an accomplished gymnast who earned a place in an Olympic Trial. He’s a published author working on his third book. He’s an experienced woodworker. He’s the father of successful men and women who have blessed him and his wife, Joan, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But, if had it not been for one brave decision, Snedden’s fruitful life would be only a dream.

See, Snedden wasn’t destined for success. He was “supposed” to work the coal mines of Pennsylvania like his father did, his grandfather did, and like his mother’s relatives did. Coal mining was his family’s heritage.

Snedden’s parents’ ancestors came from the coal-mining towns in Scotland, explained Snedden in his memoir, It Is What It Is. His father and three (or more) generations before him were coal miners in Scotland and in the United States. His mother’s heritage is Scotch, Irish, and Dutch via coal mining also in Scotland.

“All of the children of my paternal family were born in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania, but thanks to my loving parents, I nor my brothers or sisters ever saw the inside of a coal mine,” said Snedden.

That’s because his father said, “enough is enough.”

The seminal moment – when his parents decided they would risk everything to pursue a better life for their children – formulated Snedden’s drive for success in all he does. With unabashed ambition, he pursues anything he sees as a worthy challenge.

This winning combination of perseverance and guts is the formula for success that Snedden, 80, learned at an early age from his father. That’s why Darrell Snedden, a third-generation coal miner, who learned and worked his craft in Pennsylvania in the 1930s and 40s, is his hero. He’s hoped his father’s and ancestors’ pioneering spirit has rubbed off on him. And, it has.

In his memoirs, Snedden summarizes his family heritage and the gift his ancestors have passed along to him, his children, his grandchildren and the generations to come. His ancestors’ collective story is one of living and leaving the coal-mining world and a way of life that had successfully harnessed generation after generation of Snedden families until Snedden’s father sought something more.

The Great Escape
By all accounts, young Snedden and his siblings were heading straight for a poor life of dangerous, difficult work in the 1940s. Coal mining had been a dominant industry in Pennsylvania since the early 1700s, and generations of men before him had spent their working lives in mines. It was a hard life.

“In those days, in rural mining towns, no one owned a car, so they had to live close to where they worked so they could walk there,” said Snedden. “Coal miners weren’t paid much. After they got their groceries, paid their light bill and so forth, they had very little money left over to do anything.

“When you’re a coal miner, you’re poor,” he said. “You live in the company house, you buy groceries from the company store and then, if you have any money left over, you go to the company store to buy some sort of entertainment. It was a cycle of entrapment,” said Snedden.

Snedden’s father had been working in coal mining since he was 10 years old and it’s all he knew. But, Snedden’s mother Margaret, who was more educated than his father, helped her husband move up the ranks to become a miner inspector. This position wasn’t too enviable though: inspectors were the ones who entered the coal mines first.

Yes, he had achieved a higher rank, but Darrell remained stuck. He wanted more for his family than that coal-mining life, and his ambitions stretched beyond what was available to him there.

He was desperate to leave coal mining. He and his wife’s brothers and sisters pooled their funds and their families and formulated their exit.

“My parents got together with the others and said, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here,’” said Snedden. “It took a lot of guts to leave Pennsylvania; they didn’t have any other expertise except coal mining.”

The group relocated to Connecticut in search of a better life in 1944 when Snedden was six years old.

Two Father’s Legacies
Snedden is proud of his family’s legacy. His father knew nothing outside of coal mining but took it upon himself to learn conveyors and machinery to support his family after the move. He learned new skills, took new risks, and searched diligently for work.

Looking back on his father’s brave decision to leave Pennsylvania, and the only life he’d known, Snedden was curious about his courage. “I’d ask my dad, ‘How did you know you could handle it?’ and he’d say, ‘Whatever happens, we’ll handle it,’” said Snedden.

“One of my father’s philosophies was that if you knew how to do a lot of people’s jobs, you’ll always have a job. He knew how to fix things and do other people’s jobs,” said Snedden.

“He’d say to me, ‘If you can do other things, then you will always have a job’…and he always did,” he added.

Snedden took notes from his father’s legacy and incorporated them into his own life and he did things his siblings wouldn’t dare. He became the only of his parents’ children to go to college, became a self-trained gymnast, and enjoyed time as a self-taught scuba diver, too. Always up for a challenge, he wanted to be an inspiration to his children. Snedden looks at his father’s example on how to live fearlessly and wisely.

The books will be part of the legacy Snedden leaves for his family, something everlasting that holds his family story, his ideas, and dreams. The books are a tangible record of his ideas and beliefs, a way for his ancestors to know him for generations to come.

“As I write my memoirs, I think about my legacy,” said Snedden. “I think all humans at some point in time realize they won’t live forever. I wanted to leave more of me, us, and our experiences, and so I figured a legacy is something you put in print.

“I also leave a legacy of several woodworking pieces, both furniture, and art, made with love and care for our children to enjoy after I am gone,” he added.

“If you were born, lived a self-interested life, and nobody noticed, that’s a shame,” said Snedden.

“I want to leave a legacy to our children, and the books are one way to do that.”

The Sneddens are an example of a family who broke the chains of an industry that owned their livelihoods. Powered by the hope of having of something better, their faith carried them to new places to seek new challenges, and the perseverance of one father and his family changed future generations forever.

We’re wise to follow Darryl Snedden’s example: Just because the situations look bleak, and there seems to be no way out, it’s worth trying to make a change. Let’s not let circumstances dictate our paths. Charge through expectations and create the legacy you want. Show your descendants how to break the cycle. You may not be entrapped by the coal-mining business, but most every snare is escapable if you bring fearlessness and courage along for the ride.

Have you considered what your legacy will be? Does your family share a famous or meaningful legacy? Please share it with us so we can enrich the lives of others with this gift. We believe that our nation’s seniors are living legacies by calling 1-866-320-8803 or by e-mailing coreyshenk@gmail.com.

Vickie Pleus, APR, CPRC

Vickie Pleus, APR, CPRC, is the president of VP Communications, a public-relations consultancy based in DeLand, Fla. VP Communications provides integrated marketing communications, public relations, social media, corporate writing and more to small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

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