Small communities throughout West Virginia were isolated during the 20th century - much more so than they are today.
But one high school coach and teacher and his family embraced education, discipline and hard work to demonstrate that small-town West Virginia could be a launching pad for remarkable success.
Lewis Joseph D'Antoni, the son of Italian immigrants and longtime educator and coach in Wyoming County, was an inspiration for his highly successful daughter and three sons, a mentor for his athletes and students and a shining beacon for his native state.
The Education Alliance, the statewide, nonprofit research and K-12 public education fund, will honor Lewis D'Antoni and his family during its 2012 Annual Celebration Nov. 14 at the Marriott Town Center.
"Because of The Education Alliance's mission to help all students complete high school prepared to meet life's challenges, we are honored to recognize someone who has been that positive adult in countless students' lives," said Bill Phillips, an Education Alliance board member from Elkins.
"He has made giving his life's work - giving to his family, giving to his community, giving to his state and giving to numerous students through his many years of service as a coach and educator."
James Thomas, chairman of the board of directors for The Education Alliance, said a reception is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dinner will follow at 6:30 p.m.
"We're delighted that Coach D'Antoni's highly successful children - Kathy, Dan, Mike and Mark - are scheduled to join their father and be a part of our Annual Celebration," Thomas said.
The coach, who will be 99 years old in December, inspires fond memories from one of his former players.
"He's a father figure for me," said Willie Akers, the highly successful Logan High School basketball coach who played for D'Antoni at Mullens. "He was a legendary coach at Mullens by the time I got there, and he was a great coach. He taught us to do things right."
Akers, who went on to star on the basketball team at West Virginia University with Jerry West, said D'Antoni was that way with his children. The coach taught his daughter and three sons to be disciplined in their studies and disciplined on the field of athletic competition, said Akers, who played on Mullens High School's 1955 state championship basketball team.
"He and his wife, Betty Jo, who was a wonderful person, taught that. That's the way it was."
D'Antoni, who was a teacher and principal at Mullens High before coaching at Chesapeake High School in Ohio, had been a fine high school and college athlete in his own right. A veteran of World War II, he went on to become a high school educator, administrator and one of West Virginia's most successful coaches. His career basketball coaching record was 450-200.
His children found success in the classroom, in athletics and professionally. Daughter Kathy, an assistant state superintendent of schools in West Virginia, offered her view of education.
"The value of education lies in the fact that education, metaphorically, is a huge 'tool box' for building your future," Kathy D'Antoni said.
"The specific educational tools you need to have in your 'tool box' are determined by your dreams and aspirations. But bottom line - everyone needs a 'tool box.'"
Information about sponsorships and tickets for The Education Alliance's 2012 Annual Dinner Celebration is available online at www.educationalliance.org. Proceeds will support The Education Alliance's efforts to ensure all West Virginia public school students graduate ready to pursue education after high school or a career.