WHEELING – Dennis “Denny” Magruder wrestled with the idea of retirement just like he wrestled with the idea of taking the job as manager of the facility then known as the Wheeling Civic Center back in 1986.
In fact, the number-crunching financial consultant didn’t say “yes” when he was first offered the position many years ago. But after more than three and a half decades of a whirlwind career, he said he knows he made the right decision by taking on the task — a leap of faith he now describes as the best decision he’s ever made.
On Monday, Magruder said he’s also confident that he has made the right decision to call it a career this year. He will be retiring from his position as executive director of the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority after 36½ years of service.
“Oct. 1 is my last day on the job,” he said, noting that he told his staff and his board of directors of his decision on May 31. “It’s just time — for all of the right reasons, and that’s the good thing.”
Magruder said he has thought about, stressed about and prayed about retirement for a long time, and the stars have aligned in both his personal life and professional life to turn to the next chapter.
photo by: Photo by Eric Ayres
With big shoes to fill, Magruder gave the board four months notice and vowed to assist in the transition this fall. He said Oct. 1 makes perfect sense as the official retirement date.
“It’s the start of a new entertainment season,” he said, adding that the nearly $1.7 million project to install a new permanent ice system at WesBanco Arena is well underway. “Hockey starts in October. I kind of want to see this construction through. It’s a big deal for me. It’s scheduled to be completed in September.”
Magruder said after retirement, he plans to spend more time with his family, and focus on staying active – with more time planned for visits to the Howard Long Wellness Center, too.
“I’m obviously going to take a little time to just chill out and take a fresh look at things,” he said. “I’m going to work part-time. I’m not sure what that’s going to be. I have some opportunities in the industry. I think it’s good for me mentally and physically.”
While he sees it as a perfect time for him to turn the next chapter in his life, he also sees it as an opportune time for the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority to find a new director with a fresh perspective, as well.
photo by: File Photo by Eric Ayres
“Let’s be honest, I think it’s time for the board and this establishment to get some new thinking, too,” he said. “It’s good for everybody.”
A graduate of Wheeling Central Catholic High School and West Liberty University, Magruder had worked for the city of Wheeling, in the private sector for an accounting firm and as comptroller for Marshall County Schools before becoming Wheeling’s entertainment guru — a job he never imagined having at that time.
Even before being offered the job as the manager of the then-Civic Center, he had designed most of the accounting system the facility still uses today.
“I knew they were looking for a manager,” he said. “The board called me up and asked if I would be interested in this job. I don’t know why they called me. I didn’t say ‘yes’ right away. But it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Life took a funny twist for me.”
Magruder said the first great piece of advice he got was to join a professional association, and he did. He has been a member of the International Association of Venue Managers since then. His involvement would lead him to establish great friends and colleagues around the country, allowed him to serve as a mentor and teacher for others in the industry around the world and earned him the highest honor bestowed by the IAVM – the Charles McElravy Awad — which he received last year for his contributions to the association and the profession over the years.
photo by: File Photo by Eric Ayres
“It’s been just a great time,” he said. “Just to be involved with so many people. I’ve been blessed with just the finest staff to work with over the years. They spend their time making me look decent.”
Being surrounded by good people is a key formula for success, Magruder noted.
“I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the best people in the world,” he said. “In 36½ years, there has honestly never been two days exactly alike. And that’s a blessing. That keeps things fresh.”
One big part of the evolution of WesBanco Arena and the local sports and entertainment landscape came by way of the ECHL and the hometown Wheeling Nailers.
“The Nailers have been here for 30 years,” Magruder said with amazement. “We’re the oldest team in the ECHL, and the very smallest market. That’s a tribute to this community.”
More recently, Magruder expanded his role and got the chance to get involved in the new chapter of the Capitol Theatre, which he has also found very rewarding.
“The Capitol is part of the fabric of this town,” he said. “To be part of the team that saw this thing through has been great. It’s one of our signature pieces of the puzzle right now.”
Magruder noted that he could have easily chosen a career in finance and never entered the arena of entertainment venue management had he not made that critical decision decades ago.
“I’m a guy who believes in fate,” he said. “I didn’t grow up wanting to be an arena manager. That was not my objective in life. And yet, it’s been a blessing. It’s been so much fun. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
While Magruder’s legacy has countless interesting stories of brushing elbows with celebrities — from Kenny Rogers randomly dropping into his office to praise Wheeling and his staff to WWE owner Vince McMahon phoning him out of the blue to talk business — it’s the local people who make things happen and who Magruder said he will miss the most.
“I will miss the daily interaction with the people,” he said. “I’ll be no stranger — I’ll still be around the community and will be involved. I’m not moving away; I’m not going to any retirement home in Florida. There’s a tomorrow for me. I’m not sure exactly what that is yet.”
It will be up to the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority Board to find Magruder’s successor. In the meantime, Magruder since announcing his pending retirement has tried to avoid the limelight and has remained humble, crediting his staff for his successes. However, those who know him know the size of the void he will leave.
“Denny has had a wonderful and very productive career, first in operating the arena and then adding the Capitol Theatre,” said Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron, who also serves on the board of directors for the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority. “The synergy that Denny and his staff brought to the table enabled the community to successfully acquire and then operate that historic and iconic venue. He carefully oversaw numerous improvement projects and operated within his budget.”
Herron said countless different types of entertainment bookings and events over the years were brought to Wheeling because of Magruder’s leadership — to the enjoyment of thousands of people spanning multiple generations.
“Denny’s love of the facilities and our city always came through in great volumes and was evident when working with him,” Herron said. “While he has had more than 36 very successful years at the helm of WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre, he has been a true shining star the past three years in navigating through a pandemic that shut down the entertainment industry. The Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority has come out of the pandemic in a strong position because of Denny’s experience, knowledge and steady hand.
“He values his family greatly, and I not only express my great appreciation and thanks to him for his years of service to the city and the Upper Ohio Valley, but also wish him the very best in the future.”