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Health & Science

The Mullens Dogwood Festival Returns With New Hope, Memorials and Tree-Planting

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Bo Perdue
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Photography by Bo Perdue
A dogwood tree blooms on the edge of town in Mullens, WV. (2021)

The Mullens Dogwood Festival is returning to its roots and tradition after a year away.

The small, Southern West Virginia town will host its 41st annual dogwood tree-planting ceremony this weekend, and organizers expect the in-person event will bring renewed hope and life to the town after the pandemic kept the event from happening last year.

In springtime, as people drive into Mullens, West Virginia on Route 54, the dogwood trees stand as welcome visitors, lining the hillsides in the woods, front yards, and even along the railroad tracks.

“They’re all over town,” observes Dogwood Festival treasurer Sara Lou Frank, who has lived in Mullens her whole life and helps with the festival each year. She says many of the white and pink trees you see as you enter town were planted as part of the annual event.

The tree that Frank is most connected to sits just beside the railroad tracks in town. She and her grandkids helped to dig a hole, insert a dogwood, and cover the bottom with rich soil in honor of her late husband Jack Frank.

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Courtesy
Jack Frank and wife Sara Lou Frank

“I can look right at the tree and I know that’s where we planted the tree in memory of him,” Frank said.

It’s the perfect spot since Jack worked for 46 years on the railroad. Frank says people have traveled back from all over the country to participate in the tiny town’s annual ceremony. But it’s more than that, she thinks. The festival helps people to return to their roots.

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Janet Kunicki
Sara Lou Frank stands beside the railroad tracks in Mullens, WV where a dogwood tree is planted in memory of her late husband, Jack Frank.

“I look forward to it because it brings people back home,” Frank said. “They want to come home.”

It even brought back festival organizer Susan England.

“My husband and I live in Buckhannon, West Virginia,” England said. “Mullens, West Virginia made me what I am today and I will never forget that.”

It also helps people to honor family who have passed on, she said, a symbolic remembrance that lives on.

“Today as we remember our individuals that have left us, look around at the beauty of that dogwood tree and remember that when you’re looking at the dogwood tree that our loved ones never leave us -- they are here,” she said while speaking at the annual ceremony in 2019.

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Bo Perdue
A dogwood tree blooms in front of a mural in Mullens, WV. (2021)

Many of the trees were planted after the 2001 flood that nearly wiped out the town. England says the struggle to rebuild is part of what makes the town, the festival and the trees so special.

“When it becomes so important is when you go through a significant loss. Then you realize the importance of who you are and what made you who you are,” England said. “You look around you and you think if I don't remember, the next generation will never remember. So that's why this is so significant. And that became significant then because there was such great loss in the city and Mullens. (The year) 2001 devastated this town.

“But if you look at the people, they are survivors. That's that's what makes the town.”

Since the pandemic cancelled the event last year, loved ones from both 2020 and 2021 will be honored, some of them for the first time since they’ve passed on. England says some families didn’t have a funeral or service last year. This year’s dogwood tree planting ceremony will also be live streamed for the first time. It can be viewed on the Mullens Dogwood Festival Facebook page on Friday at 3 p.m.

The Mullens Dogwood Festival also has carnival rides, food, local vendors, games, and music. The 2021 Mullens Dogwood Festival is May 5-9.

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Bo Perdue
The 2021 Mullens Dogwood Festival includes a rides such as a ferris wheel.


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