October Sky

Actor Randy Stripling, right, who portrayed mine machine shop worker Leo Bolden in the 1999 motion picture “October Sky,” will attend this year’s October Sky Festival in Coalwood.

Another co-star from the 1999 motion picture “October Sky” is coming to McDowell County.

Actor Randy Stripling, who portrayed mine machine shop worker Leo Bolden, the man who helped Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys build their rockets in the movie, will visit the real Coalwood Oct. 2 as part of the annual October Sky Festival. The small McDowell County community has hosted the popular festival for more than a decade.

“I’m very excited about coming to the real Coalwood,” Stripling said in a festival press release. “We didn’t get to film the movie there; it was shot in Tennessee, so this will be a lot of fun.”

Stripling said he is especially looking forward to meeting the real life inspiration for his character, Bill Bolt, who is still a resident of Coalwood.

Stripling has appeared in several movies and television shows, including “Lone Star,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Blank Check” and “The Wendell Baker Story.”

Stripling will be joined at this year’s festival by Homer Hickam and fellow Rocket Boys Roy Lee Cooke, Billy Rose and O’Dell Carroll, as well as Dreama Denver, wife of the late Bob Denver of “Gilligan’s Island” fame, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and members of the Concord University Marching Band.

In the press release, Stripling points to “October Sky” and the experiences of the project as his most rewarding film work, “primarily because of the lasting impact that the film has had on many of our nation’s young people, and the film’s ability to inspire them to greatness.”

Stripling will answer attendee questions after a free festival screening of “October Sky” and mingle with fans of the film and book.

In previous years, “October Sky” cast members Scott Miles (Jim Hickam) and Natalie Canerday (Elsie Hickam) attended the festival, along with several special guests, including NASA shuttle astronauts Thomas Jones and Bill Readdy.

Stripling, a Vietnam vet, served with the famed “Red Devils” Squadron of VMFA 232, the oldest and most decorated Marine Corps Squadron.

He has been active as an advocate for veteran issues and as a candidate for public office for state representative and the United States Senate from his native Texas, according to the press release.

Hickam’s various Coalwood memoirs will be available for purchase at this year’s festival with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Cape Coalwood Restoration Association. The proceeds also are used to help fund the community’s youth activities and upkeep.

The opening ceremonies for the festival will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, on the clubhouse steps in Coalwood Main. The festival continues until 6 p.m. Coalwood is on W.Va. 16, about eight miles from Welch.

— Charles Owens is a member of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph editorial staff. E-mail: cowens@bdtonline.com

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