UMWA Chaplain Corps


The UMWA has a long history of honoring its members at funeral services and providing support for families after losing a loved one. Members of the UMWA Chaplain Corps volunteer their time and come together to honor a fallen brother or sister with a traditional UMWA burial service.

An excerpt of the burial service that provides a solemn tribute states, “And now, our fellow worker, we pay the last sad rite and tribute of respect, the last one we can pay you in this world, placing on your grave these evergreens as a token of respect, that thy memory shall be with us always, though thou hast paid the debt and hast gone to the realms above.”

“The UMWA burial service is one of the most sincere tributes we can give to our fallen brothers and sisters after they have passed and provides comfort to their families,” said President Roberts.

“Unfortunately, I have attended more services for our fallen brothers and sisters than I can count,” Roberts said. “Coal miners have paid a tremendous debt to our country, and they should be honored with dignity upon their passing. The ceremony given by members of the UMWA’s Chaplain Corps is a selfless and heartfelt tribute given to families in their deepest hours of grief.”


Members of the Sub-District 28 UMWA Chaplain Corp.


Sub-District 28 Deep Roots and Still Going Strong

In the early days of coal mining in southwest Virginia, a small group of members would attend funeral services and wear UMWA ribbons while conducting the ceremony. Participation declined over the years but Sub-District 28 members have revitalized the old tradition. There was originally a Chaplain group in the Jewel Ridge, Richlands and Grundy area, along with a group in the Castlewood, Coeburn, Big Stone Gap area. In 2016, the groups were merged as one unit and brainstormed new ideas of how to conduct ceremonies going forward.

“We meet monthly, and we are always fine-tuning things,” said Local Union 1259 Financial Secretary Ken Holbrook. “The service we provide to families has been in our Constitution for over 100 years. Today, we all wear matching UMWA shirts and hard hats with a light attached.”

At the end of each ceremony, the family is presented with a Bible and a hard hat. “The hard hat is something we thought the family could put on a mantle. We have the member’s name and local union number put on it. It’s something they can keep in remembrance of their loved one,” Holbrook said.

During the service, one member reads from the burial service, another presents the Sub-District 28 banner and the rest of the group wait with the lights of their hard hats on. The Corps has performed 243 services since 2015. The group meets monthly and has expanded to more than forty members.



District 20 Comforts Grieving Families

District 20’s Chaplain Corps was co-founded in 1997 by Local Union 2133 member and pastor Elbert Jones, Sr., former District 20 President Rex Tanner and the Reverend Leroy Oliver, also of Local Union 2133. They never envisioned their services would be so valuable to the families of Brookwood so soon after their formation.

When explosions occurred on September 13, 2001, at the Jim Walters Resources No. 5 mine in Brookwood, Alabama, members of the District 20 Chaplain Corps were there to lend their comfort and support to the victim’s families. No one could foresee the magnitude of the mine explosions and the impact it  would have on nearly everyone in the close-knit community.

The explosion at No. 5 mine was a shock to the entire Brookwood community. The horrific disaster took 13 miners’ lives, and the loss to the community is  still felt today.

“After the mine explosions, no one knew what to do. The whole area was kind of in shock,” said International District 20 Vice President Larry Spencer.

“Everyone was offering support and prayers,”  Spencer said. “The Chaplain Corps was working closely with other pastors and counselors to assist the victim’s families. I honestly don’t know how we all would have made it through that difficult time without them.”


It’s More Than a Service; It’s an Honor

Local Union 1760 and Vice Commander of Sub-District 28 Chaplain Corps Danny Dye is humbled by his experience with the Corps over the years. “It’s the last thing we can do to show our respect to our brother or  sister when they pass,” Dye said.

“An evergreen is everlasting. Those who have passed on may be gone, but they will be remembered. They will not be forgotten. It’s an honor to do this for the families,” Dye said.

Dave Laurie, a member of Local Union 1058 in District 31,has been a part of the UMWA Chaplain Corps for several years. He remembers when President Roberts first asked him if he wanted to be a part of the  Chaplain Corps. “At first, I didn’t want to do it because I thought there might be other people more deserving than I was,” said Laurie.

“After talking to my wife and my dear friend Fred Myers, they convinced me that  I should do it. I am glad I did. I am a proud member of our union, and it really meant a lot to me. I’ve been honored to give invocations at several UMWA meetings over the years and have had the opportunity to counsel my fellow brothers and sisters during their difficult times.” Laurie said.

“Our UMWA Chaplain Corps is always there, providing a service to our members who are in need of prayers, counseling and in times of bereavement,” said President Roberts. “ These champions of humanity are always there to help their fellow miners and their families. I thank them for their dedication and commitment to not only the United Mine Workers of America but to every family that has been touched by their remarkable deeds.”


UMWA Chaplain Corps Members

District 2: A.J. Byers

District 12: Billy Smith, Mike Higgerson, Carl Shomate

Sub-District 28: Arnold Campbell, Bill Hale, Bill Richardson,
Bobby Dye, Bruce Baldwin, Cecil Dye, Charlie Vandyke,
Danny Dye, Danny Horton, Darrell Hess, Dean Vance,
Doug Shepherd, Eddie Lockhart, Freasure McGlothlin,
Greg Austin, Harold Harris, Harvey Hess, Henry Shortridge,
James Brown, James Lester, Jerry Dye, Jerry Owens,
Jerry Willis, Jim Hall, Josh West, Ken Holbrook, Larry Kilgore,
Larry Whited, Lee Potter, Lowell Yates, Phillip Keene,
Ralph Rife, Roger Jessee, Roy Sauls, Sam Hughes,
Stan Compton, Steve Wallace, Tommy Parrott, Tony Owens,
James “Snuffy” Smith, Lowell Bise, Jerry Stallard,
Freddie Wallace

District 20: Reverand Joe Craig Weldon, Sister Margaret
Martin, Pastor James Landers (Cadillac), Reverand Bo Jones,
Reginald Mann

District 22: Lou Shelley

District 31: Jack Rinehart, Ron Raber, Dave Laurie