The West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame, a joint initiative between the West Virginia Coal Mining Institute and the West Virginia Coal Association and housed at the WVU Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in Morgantown, announced the induction of its newest class of honorees. They include Jim Justice, governor of West Virginia; Chris Cline, founder of Foresight Energy (posthumously); Ralph Ballard, founder of the Investment Management Group LLC; and, Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
This is the 23rd class of inductees for the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame, which began in 1998. The official induction ceremony has been postponed due to the coronavirus restrictions.
“These four individuals have tirelessly served the state of West Virginia and their contributions to the modern coal mining industry have been recognized, not only on a national, but also an international level,” President of the WV Coal Mining Institute Vlad Kecojevic said. “Their hard work and dedication for the continuous improvement of the coal mining industry have been exemplary and this induction to the WV Coal Hall of Fame is more than deserving.”
Gov. Justice is only the third father-son combination to be honored. His father, James C. Justice Sr., was inducted in the inaugural class of 1998. Before becoming governor in 2016, Justice grew his family’s mining company, Bluestone Coal, into one of the most productive coal operations in the region. Throughout his mining career, he has employed hundreds of West Virginia coal miners who have mined millions of tons of West Virginia coal.
He turned an inherited budget deficit of half a billion dollars into a significant budget surplus in just his first year. As governor, he has worked tirelessly to bring opportunity to the state by creating jobs, fixing roads, addressing substance abuse, and more recently, deftly and compassionately leading the state through the global pandemic.
Cline learned the coal industry from the “underground” up. He started working in the mines at 15. From the early days of Pioneer Fuels to when he founded Foresight Energy, he was an innovative businessman and always ahead of his time in anticipating the coal markets.
His coal enterprises took him from Appalachia to Illinois to Canada. He incorporated advanced safety protocols and equipment into his operations, while compensating his workforce fairly and in unique ways. At Foresight, his four mine complexes were the most productive underground operations in the nation.
Through the Cline Family Foundation, he made a profound impact contributing to organizations that make life better for children, while also supporting a host of academic institutions, like WVU and Marshall, among others, and providing grants and scholarships to those in need.
Hamilton has worked in the mining industry for more than 40 years, starting in 1971 as an underground miner with the Valley Camp Coal Co. in northern West Virginia. He has served as a mine section foreman/fire-boss, a certified U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) training instructor, a private mine training consultant, and deputy director of the West Virginia Department of Mines. In 1982, Hamilton joined the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) as the director of health and safety and quickly rose to senior vice president, responsible for state and federal regulatory, legislative, and public policy.
During his tenure with WVCA, he served, under gubernatorial appointment, on many mine safety boards and commissions and has served as co-chairman of the WV Coal Forum. Since 2014, Hamilton has also served as chairman of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council (WV-BIC).
After graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in engineering, Ballard worked for Peabody Coal. He served as vice president of operations at Burco LLC, and then set off on his own, starting multiple companies, including The Asset Management Group, Red Wine Mining Venture and The Investment Management Group. The firms were involved across the full spectrum of mining operations, from developing greenfield mines and operating prep plants to conducting world-class reclamation across a variety of sites.
He founded Millennium Group Builders, a company involved in the acquisition and development of residential properties in both Kanawha and Greenbrier Counties. The company has built more than 80 homes and continues to operate today.
He has been a longtime, dedicated member of the West Virginia Coal Association’s Board of Directors.