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Hobby opens window to region’s past

Everyone has heard of the “snow birds,” Tri-State residents who head south for the winter.

That must make B.J. Akers a “fall falcon” or an “annual owl.”

The Ironton native and his wife turned the typical convention on its head.

“Most people retire and go Florida,” said B.J., a 62-year-old former electric company employee. “We wanted to retire and come home.”

Both he and his wife were born in Ironton but moved away in their teens to seek better jobs than were available here at home.

But neither time nor distance diminished their love for the region.

Now, they have come home — or at least close to it by finding a nice rural patch of land to build a home on across the river in Greenup, Ky.

One of the things about this region that always resonated with B.J. was the history and heritage, two topics he was really surprised to learn wasn’t really covered particularly well in cyberspace.

Long a home movie aficionado, B.J. set out to capture some of Ironton’s past in a very modern way.

“I was doing video before video was even video,” he said, referring to some of his first amateur home movies in the early 1970s. “ I used to do it with an 8mm movie camera and sound. People thought I was kind of nutty because they had never seen it before.”

Akers’ first video was about three minutes long and featured footage of the State Route 75 tunnel reopening in 1989.

He then uploaded it to YouTube and was encouraged by the response that he got and the personal satisfaction it gave him.

This link will take you to his first effort: http://tiny.cc/v9ey2

The second was about five minutes long and focused on the riverboat days of Ironton and southern Ohio. Here it is: http://tiny.cc/yrib3

Now B.J. is setting his sights on a more ambitious project.

The third video in the works will focus on the 1937 Flood and how it devastated much of the city, often by more than just the water damage.

Akers’ goal is to make this one a little longer and eventually link all his mini-movies together to create a video history tour of sorts for Ironton.

“I’d just like to get it out there for people to see, to promote Ironton. It is my home town.”

While this may sound like a simple concept, this passion for our community is going to be vital to growing the economy. A love for history can be a part of that drive.

History drives millions of dollars in the tourism industry across the nation. And Lawrence County has the potential to take advantage of this like many other places.

Although some groups like the Lawrence County Historical Society and the Port Authority are doing their part to develop historical attractions, they cannot do it alone.

So much potential remains untapped. We have the iron furnaces. We have train history. We have Underground Railroad ties. We have a proud heritage of sports heroes on a high school level and beyond. We have historic architecture and natural beauty.

For Akers, tapping that passion means making videos and sharing. The rest of us have to find how we can leave our own mark, drawing from our history to develop our future.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.