WHAT MAKES DENNY RUN: After more than 36 years in the venues industry, Denny Magruder figures he’s got a lot more to give. (Courtesy Denny Magruder)
Support Comes from Industry Colleagues
Denny Magruder, who retired in October after more than 36 years running WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, West Virginia, is running for mayor of the city.
Magruder, 75, filed candidacy paperwork on June 1 and was the first person to enter the June 2024 race to succeed current Mayor Glenn Elliott, whose second and final term ends June 30, 2024. Wheeling, whose population is 27,000, sits along the Ohio River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Magruder, who has been offered financial backing from industry colleagues and has other local supporters, said he had been going to the local wellness center four times a week with his wife Barbara of 56 years, with whom he has raised three children and now has nine grandchildren. One day in January, he was approached by a friend and asked if he would consider running for mayor.
“I said, ‘Ah, you’re crazy. Get outta here,’” he said. “A couple weeks later, I got a call from some other folks and so I started pondering it without any real intention, but I talked to my wife and talked to my kids, I deliberated and prayed a bit and somewhere around the first of May I said, ‘I think I’d like to do this. It would be interesting.’ So, I committed to it.”
His family wasn’t shocked at the idea. They could see Magruder was getting antsy, wanting to do something after an illustrious career that saw him closely involved in the International Association of Venue Managers, whose Venue Management School was based for a long time in the Wheeling area.
“Doing a little something like this would be good for me,” he said.
Magruder notes that he was born and reared in Wheeling, graduated from college just up the road at West Liberty University, where he earned a degree in accounting and business administration, and only lived away from Wheeling from the age of two to five, when his father was recalled to Air Force service during the Korean War and the family lived on bases in Kansas and Texas.
“I have a great affection and have been part of this community my entire life,” he said. “I’m rooted here.”
His children all live within three blocks of him and he says that’s because Wheeling is an ideal place to raise kids.
Magruder had some jobs in city government after college and actually did extensive work on the bond issue that financed the arena.
“I’ve had a love affair with the arena from the very beginning,” he said.
Magruder’s background has made him intimately familiar with local government. After working for the city, he worked for an accounting firm that specialized in municipal financial audits. Later, Magruder served as business manager/controller for an adjacent county school board with about 10,000 students before transitioning to the arena business.
“My background is one that dealt with governmental finance a lot and I’ve watched the inner workings and been on various boards and commissions over the years,” he said.
Magruder doesn’t consider himself a politician even though his hat is in the ring.
His campaign is being run by Wayne Hart, an old friend who was reared in New Jersey and also went to West Liberty University.
“He extolls the virtues (of Wheeling) in that after college, he never left,” Magruder said. “He’s worked in radio, conducted media campaigns. I have a lot of respect and trust for him.”
As for his arena management work, Magruder sees a lot of parallels that translate to running a city.
“Number one, the art of public engagement, working with people, with promoters, with customers, with ticket buyers to resolve problems,” he said.
Magruder is a natural public speaker who has honed his ability over decades at industry conferences. He’s worked with the media and learned that customer, client and partner service is key to smooth operations and essential when things get rough.
“You’ve got to work with people; you’ve got to withstand criticism, but again, you have to be responsive,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to always have a great team.”
Two years ago, Magruder won the IAVM’s Charles E. McElravey Award, the association’s highest honor.
“The reason I won that award is the outstanding staff and all the friends I had in this industry,” he said. “You don’t do anything alone. A mayor is very much like an arena manager in their skill sets and what they need to do, the way they need to approach issues.”
Magruder said his years at the arena have taught him the importance of being flexible and resilient.
“In the middle of events, things happen, and mostly the audience never notices,” he said. “Most of those things are applicable to government.”
Magruder has received strong support for his mayoral campaign from colleagues such as Rex Post, Richard Andersen, Kim Bedier and Michael Marion.
“I’m blown away by that sort of thing,” he said. “These people have no vested interest in Wheeling, though many of them have visited.”
Magruder was also blown away when his staff put on a retirement shindig for him, which he called one of the greatest nights of his life. It featured visits from colleagues like Marion, Andersen, Russ Simons, John Siehl, Cheryl Swanson, John Robertson and C.J. Stegmaier.
“It affirmed my love and partnership with the IAVM and the industry,” he said. “Those people are not just industry partners, those are personal friends. I’m a very lucky guy.”