Kevin Knowles – Martinsburg City Councilman

By Rick Hemphill
Photo by Josh Triggs

“I am honest, open minded and willing, and I live by that,” said Kevin Knowles, businessman, Martinsburg City Councilman and above all a person who is committed to his home and appreciative of the benefits of the panhandle after working in other parts of the world. “The people here are great and Martinsburg has a lot to offer because it is a very unique town.”

Family is very important to Kevin being one of 6 children raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania by Jim and Mary Knowles.

“I am very, very blessed to have my wonderful wife Dana,” Kevin says honestly. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner in life and a lot of the things that I do today are the direct result of my mother and father.” “The way they brought me up and how they guided me and allowed me to see how much involvement they had with various organizations.”


“I wish I could have had another ½ hour with my dad,” Kevin says noting his father’s passing in 1994. “My father was always involved with the Boys Club of America and so he made sure his kids were at the boys clubs.” “He was also active with the Blind Association and Kiwanis International, helping the elderly and taking care of children.” “My parents let me tag along with them and let me see what other people needed.”

That exposure to other people’s needs helped guide Kevin through his ups and downs and curved around the Caribbean to circle back to Martinsburg. “I am a risk taker sometimes and I like to see the good in everything,” Kevin explains in his matter of fact way. “My wife and I had an opportunity to work overseas after 911 for ICT, a customer service management company in Barbados.”

“Tourism had died and I was a problem solver for the company and they wanted me to restructure some of their training programs.” “I thought it was a great opportunity and we packed up and moved to Barbados.” “We got to work with government officials at all levels including the Prime Minister.” “It was supposed to be a 6 month deal but it lasted for 18 months.” “It opened up a lot of doors and I got a real close look at how governments were structured.”

“There were 5000 employees in this company and they were having some problems in West Virginia,” Kevin continues. “They had a labor issue and we became involved at a very high level.” “It was nothing for me to sit down and talk with the governor or some senators to discuss the issues and although the government wanted the company to stay; the company decided to leave.”

West Virginia by then had exerted its’ appeal and Kevin and his wife Dana decided to stay. “My two grown children and three grandchildren live in Pittsburgh and Maryland,” Kevin says with a smile sneaking across his face. “We made a decision based on lifestyle not for financial reasons and we opened up a second hand clothing store “Day’ Javu.” “Life has been very good to me in my adult years I have been very successful in putting together many businesses both locally and internationally.”

“I opened up a consulting firm for international business and I got some business in Ireland, Switzerland, and Montreal which allowed me to travel internationally where I met a lot of really good people whether they were cleaning floors or CEOs’,” Kevin says with pride in his accomplishments. “We opened up another place called Dana’s Tuxedos and we ended up gifting Day’ Javu to the Humane Society of Berkeley County, as they were a non-profit that had enough people to keep the business viable.”

His parent’s example is still strong in his life as Kevin started giving back to the community. “I got involved in Big Brothers and Big Sisters as well as serving on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls clubs and the Martinsburg Chamber of Commerce,” Kevin says adding that helped push him toward public service as had his great grand-father. “I was asking a bunch of questions about the city itself and the answers I got were not always the ones I wanted to hear so one day I decided I would run for an office.” “I ran for an at large position for a councilman.” “It was a learning experience for me as I came in third in a two position race.” “I got to meet a lot of good people and I have a lot of ideas that the city can benefit from.” “Four years went by and when I ran again I won.” “I campaigned about economic development and working in the neighborhoods.”

“I began a neighborhood association recently within my ward by taking different people from within a four or five block area to discuss the city’s needs,” Kevin explains. “This has never happened before.” “I will facilitate anything they would need or take issues to the city but if it is successful they are the ones who are going to run it.” “We are getting a really good response and other areas of the city are asking about it.”

As a businessman economic policy is one of his prime interests. “When economic development explodes and I believe it will,” Kevin says with certainty. “We should have an economic development authority here within the city limits staffed with someone who has successfully run a like entity.” “This is not a position that you should fill with just anyone.”

“I have served 1/2 of my 4 year term and we recently had the Gardner Study done which gives us indications as to what we need,” Kevin says earnestly. “Home rule is something this city needs and we will know where that stands after they meet in October.”

Kevin’s election changed his views on several things once he had all the information. “One thing I did learn by getting into office was better answers to the questions I had about what the city was doing,” Kevin admits. “I found that most of those decisions were right on.” “It was just that the information was not getting back.” “I don’t blame that on anyone but I do everything I can to stay in touch with the people.” “I talk with the neighborhood and let them know what is going on.” “I give them the answers.” “It may not be the answers they want to hear but I am honest with them and that is the code of honesty openness and willingness that I live by.”

“I am very fortunate and I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure this is really me,” Kevin says. “My family is originally from Ireland, in County Donegal and County Mayo.” “When I look back and see the things they had to do to get here I am thankful.” “My great grandmother was 13 years old when she came on a boat by herself from Ireland.” “She worked in a church rectory her whole life and my great grandfather worked in the coal mines while my grandfather started an insurance company that has been very successful for over 100 years.”

Kevin looks to the future and the prospects look bright for the panhandle. “There are two things I am excited about,” Kevin says. “I am working with different people in the community to look at bringing a drug and alcohol treatment facility here to the panhandle.” “At one time in my life if hadn’t found help I’m not sure what would have happened to me.” “We are starting to see some movement with committees being formed and the state is setting aside some money for these facilities.”

“I am looking forward to this Economic Development Authority and the growth in the neighborhood associations,” Kevin explains as some concrete proposals are beginning to be presented. “I would like to see a test program for street parking.” “Take the meters from King and Queen streets and let’s see how that affects the businesses.” “We need to take it one step at a time.” “There is a lot of discussion between city leaders and I cannot speak highly enough about our Mayor George Karos.” “There are some new people on the council and there will be changes coming.” “We don’t always agree but it is all about principles before personalities.”

Martinsburg is Kevin’s home town now. “My wife and I would not be afraid to walk down the main street of this town at night,” Kevin says strongly. “Because we know how safe it is but it is a struggle to change that perception.” “I chose to live in Martinsburg because it has a small town atmosphere and when you say hello the people here say hello back.” “If you needed something they are always there for you.”

Kevin doesn’t serve the city for the salary and he genuinely enjoys helping other people whenever he can. “When I was living in Scranton and I owned a sports bar,” Kevin says honestly and explains his compassion for others. “It got to me as I was having a problem with alcohol.” “I decided to take a job cleaning toilets and floors for minimum wage for a year to get back on track.”

“I was never able to talk about that openly as people will sometimes take it differently but I have had good responses also and it is who I am.” “It was a time of my life that makes it so good for me today.” “I give back because it helps other people and makes me a better person.”

Kevin’s outlook is very positive. “Don’t go by the expression on my face that is not who I am,” Kevin says with a stern look on his round Irish face. “I am very approachable and I am a big believer in second chances.” “I think it helps being a public official.” “It is easier to bring people together and I find that whether it is as a public official or just volunteering it is the same type of giving back.” “I am very proud to be a City Councilman here in Martinsburg and I plan to stay in Martinsburg the rest of my life.

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