RAINELLE, W.Va. — A community which has endured so much tragedy in 2016 is dealing with another loss today. Russell Gilkeson, known as “Coach G”, in Greenbrier County died suddenly Sunday. The tragedy came only two days after he and his wife Becky were presented with the keys to a new home built by the Appalachia Service Project to replace theirs in Rainelle which was destroyed in the June 23rd flood.
“It was the last news I thought I’d ever hear,” said Walter Crouch, resident and CEO of the Appalachia Service Project. “We’ve all lost a friend and the effect on the community and the high school is going to be profound and on us.”
Gilkeson was a fixture in the local community. He had been the head trainer for the Greenbrier West High School football team since 1991 and served since the early 80’s as an assistant trainer with the team.
“We had a short team meeting this morning and told them what happened,” said Greenbrier West football coach Lew McClung. “I think a lot of them were just like us, kind of in shock and several were upset.”
McClung got the news Sunday evening when he spoke to Gilkeson’s widow, Becky. She didn’t indicate what had happened.
“I can just imagine the roller coaster she’s on with all that happened on Friday and they were moving in this past weekend,” said McClung. “The house was dedicated and with this to happen just kind of pulls the rug out from under everybody.”
The Gilkesons lost their home and all of their possessions like so many in Greenbrier County on June 23rd in the flood. Their new home was constructed by Crouch’s organization, the first of at least 20 and probably many more the organization plans to build in Rainelle in the months ahead.
“We’re really a relationship ministry with a little construction on the side. We don’t have clients, we have friends,” said Crouch. “From the time I met Russ standing on his lot to when we signed him up to build his house at the McDonald’s in Rainelle to Friday afternoon when we were laughing and joking in his kitchen, Russ has been a friend.”
Gilkeson coached volleyball at Greenbrier West for many years until he retired from the job a few years ago. He also taught at Rainelle Junior High, Rupert Junior High, and Greenbrier West High School. He was known and beloved by all. His home was the first to be finished in the Rebuild Rainelle project because of his standing in the community and Crouch said they knew he would be a tremendous spokesman for the work they are doing.
“Friday was a high point for me in my six years with this organization,” said Crouch. “The call last night was probably the most tragic thing.”
Plans are in the works to honor Gilkeson at this Friday night’s Greenbrier West football game. McClung said they haven’t finalized how they will honor the beloved coach, but assures it will be done in some way.