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Tomblin revelers have a ball at inauguration gala

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They came decked out in their finest, some in haute couture and others from discount stores, to celebrate Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's inauguration at Charleston's Clay Center.

In the Walker Theatre, Cathy Fulks of Winfield was spending time with her friend, Amanda Easter, of Charleston while listening to Matt Jones and the Road play a country cover of Prince's Purple Rain. The two have attended black tie events in the past, fundraisers and the like, and past inaugural balls including those for Sen. Joe Manchin when he was governor.

Easter, in a floor length "Democrat blue," one-shouldered gown, divulged that she bought Fulks' gown for her, thinking it would be perfect. The place of purchase was a bit unlikely.

Fulks looked stunning in the short gunmetal sleeveless dress with a ruffled collar, but it set Easter back less than the cost of  a movie ticket.

"I paid $7 for this at Gabe's," Easter said. "We're in a recession, baby. We've got to look good on a budget."

They were enjoying themselves in the Walker Theatre while waiting for Taylor Made, a band from Grafton, to hit the stage in the Maier Foundation Performance Hall.

The theme for the day was "West Virginia First" and in keeping with that theme, organizers booked ten local bands to play at different locations around the Clay Center. Gala attendees drifted from theater to cafes to lobbies enjoying the abundant food and drink.

(More scenes from the inaugural ball)

The performance hall stage was filled with tables. Twinkling lights shone overhead as attendees danced to the sounds of the jazzy Soul Miners, who were on a small secondary stage. Fiddler Adam DeGraff of Lewisburg played with a jam band in the art gallery.

The Davisson Brothers band began rocking out as soon as Tomblin and First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin stepped off of the grand staircase to greet their guests.

It was a lavish and classy shindig on a budget. Initial estimates for the cost of the inaugural activities put the price tag at $400,000. That's about half of what was spent for Manchin's 2009 inaugural, the ball for which was held at Charleston's Civic Center.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Tomblin's office, said last week that the Tomblins wanted to keep things "doable, affordable and convenient to folks," by scaling back the ball.

Easter and Fulks, a Putnam County schoolteacher, made plans well beforehand to attend the ball and were enjoying themselves Monday evening. Easter, who runs Inside Out Creative marketing and design firm, liked that the event was toned down.

"I really like the fact that he didn't spend so much money on the party," Easter said.

Selena Barker of Milton enjoyed a brass quintet with her friend, Farrah Crane, in the lobby. The two were at the ball with their husbands, who both are in the military.

Barker, in a rhinestone studded strapless gown with a ruffled skirt, said she and Crane looked everywhere for their gowns. It was their first time attending an inaugural ball.

"We picked out our gowns together," Crane said.

"We went to multiple places," Barker said. "We looked everywhere."   

Barker found her gown at Barbie's Formal in Milton while Crane, in a soft maroon strapless floor-length dress, picked hers up at Nandel's in Eleanor.

They were enjoying looking at the other women in their finery.

"Everybody looks so beautiful," Barker said.

The biting cold and later the sleet and rain, kept women's gowns under wraps, sometimes made of fur, until they made it inside to check them.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant pulled off a fur coat that she said was older than she was to reveal a short, flowy royal purple dress. She attended with her husband, Sen. Erik Wells, who looked dapper in his tuxedo.

The coat, which she said wasn't sure was real, belonged to a close family friend and was on loan for the evening. Tennant said she bought her dress at Macy's.

"This is just a great celebration," Tennant said. "This is about West Virginia. We work hard and when we get the opportunity to celebrate with family we take it and enjoy it."

Tennant was one of those sworn into office Monday afternoon at the state Capitol. In addition to her husband and daughter, her five brothers and one sister joined her at the ceremony.

The party was expected to last until 11 p.m.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.


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