I have had the privilege and honor to be Mayor of this magnificent city for a little over 2 ½ years now, and in the course of my duties have made many decisions. Some good, some perhaps not-so-good. But one decision stands apart for the simple reason that I do not think I could have done anything better. And that was my decision to recommend to City Council that we appoint Jay Frey to chair the Wheeling 250 Committee. Jay’s love of local history, his professionalism, and, frankly, his refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer made him the perfect conductor for this distinguished orchestra that has been tasked with planning a year-long celebration of all things Wheeling.
And I think a round of applause for Jay and his fellow Wheeling 250 Committee members is in order.
One example of Jay’s wisdom surfaced yesterday when we were discussing tonight’s event. He politely asked me to keep my remarks brief. A brilliant suggestion. I just wish he had done so before I finished the 38th page of my prepared remarks tracing through 250 years of Wheeling history. But we will save that gem for another day.
The truth is you cannot define what Wheeling is in any one speech no matter how lengthy or eloquent your words are. And even if you could define Wheeling for a moment, the truth is Wheeling continues to change with each passing day.
We were a strategic frontier outpost that hosted—in 1782—what is widely recognized as the last land battle of the Revolutionary War.
We were, during the 1860s, a stronghold of Unionists and birthplace of the only state born of the Civil War.
We were the state capital, not once, but twice.
As the 19th Century gave way to the 20th, we were an industrial and commercial powerhouse blessed with a strategic location, ample natural resources, and the unmatched ambition and skills of our workers and entrepreneurs.
Today, many of the architectural, cultural and social assets created in years past remain, offering a remarkable array of resources for a city of barely 28,000 people.
And these resources are being leveraged as the city’s current renaissance takes hold. As many of the banners you can see placed around town suggest, Wheeling does have a “bright future and treasured heritage.”
And through it all, perhaps most importantly, we have been—and we remain—a delightful community to call home.
So, in closing tonight, I would like to ask each of you to pause for a moment and imagine what it must have been like in 1769 when the Zane brothers—Ebenezer, Jonathan and Silas—exercised their land grant by tomahawk right and established the settlement that was to become Wheeling.
I’ve done a little research here, and my understanding is it was a glorious September day when Ebenezer, being a man of poetic talents, wiped the sweat from his brow and turned to his brothers Jonathan and Silas, proclaiming as follows:
Let this land be one where the hills bestow prosperity,
Where the river welcomes each and every day,
Where the seasons command ingenuity,
And where the streets shall always remain . . . one way.
But in all seriousness, thank you to the Wheeling 250 Committee, especially co- chairs Donna Glass and Tammi Secrist, for putting this spectacular event together. Thank you also to Ball Committee members Stella Boldrick, Saun Capehart, Mary Beth Hughes, and Paula McClure.
Lastly, let me end with a public service announcement. When discussing the scope of Wheeling 250 Committee activities with Mr. Frey and other committee members, a consensus quickly emerged that we should use 2019 not only to highlight Wheeling history, but that we should look for ways to leave something concrete behind for future generations. One idea quickly took root. An idea that has been kicked around for decades but never acted upon. And that is basically this: a Wheeling history museum. A central depository of artifacts, photographs, and stories to share the Wheeling experience.
Towards that end, representatives from the City, Wheeling Heritage, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Ohio County have agreed to co-fund a new position of Museum Project Manager to be charged with coming up with a realistic, achievable plan for making a Wheeling History Museum a reality. And it is my distinct pleasure to announce that Travis Henline will assume that position on January 14th.
Thank you so much for joining us tonight for this unforgettable event. Please everyone now raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the city we all love as we enter the 250th year of its existence.
Thank you Mr. [Philip] Stahl.
Thank you as well to the members of the Warwood Middle School Chorus for sharing their lovely voices with us today.
Thank you Pastor [Melvin] Williams for delivering our invocation today.
To Mr. [Mel] Blount, I just want to say what an honor it is to share the podium with you this afternoon. As a diehard Steelers fan who was born in 1971 and grew up thinking it was normal for one’s team to win the Super Bowl, I hope you know how much I appreciate the magic of those teams you played on. But even more impressive is the way you have used your post-NFL life to make a difference in the lives of so many young man across this country.
To Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger and the other men and women of the Wheeling Police Department, thank you for the invitation to today’s ceremony.
More importantly, thank you for what you do.
This event serves as a very stark reminder that from the moment each day when you put on your uniform, you do so knowing that whatever comes next could put your life in harm’s way. You understand that the occupation you have chosen necessarily presents risks that cannot be fully eliminated. But you also understand the sacred role you play in maintaining a free society founded upon the rule of law. We owe you our sincere gratitude for the pact you have made with the communities you protect and serve.
And as a City we have to hold up our end of the bargain. We have to give you the tools you need to keep us safe and—just as importantly—to keep you safe in doing so. We have to foster policies that drive investment and jobs into the neighborhoods we ask you to patrol. We have to work with our state, national, and nonprofit leaders to figure out solutions to the drug and mental health crises in this country instead of asking you to respond to the symptoms thereof. And we have to ensure that we are not relying on your law enforcement training to solve stubborn societal ills demanding our collective response.
To that end, I pledge to you my continued support for the Wheeling Police Department and to the men and women who keep us safe.