WHEELING - Local historian Margaret Brennan spent much of her adult life working to promote and preserve Wheeling's heritage. Now, she has decided it's time for someone else to assume the role.
Brennan this month stepped down as head of the Wheeling Area Historical Society, a position she's held for more than 25 years. Her retirement leaves an uncertain future for the society, which has a dwindling membership and no set positions other than what Brennan held.
Brennan is a former history teacher and has served as a resource for scores of people over the years. If she didn't have an answer, she would find the person who did.
Photo by Andy Lloyd
Wheeling Area Historical Society President Margaret Brennan, right, looks over plans for a Civil War article with Beckah Karelis, historian for the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.
"I'll still be active, but it's time for me to go in another direction," Brennan said. "I want time to do more oral histories and to get the stories of the people I haven't been able to do yet. The history of Wheeling is in the people, not in the books. I hope to be able to collect those oral histories and then write them down before they are gone."
The Wheeling Area Historical Society was founded in 1929 as the Ohio County Historical Society, but inactivity among its members allowed it to falter. Then in 1938, A.B. Brooks of Oglebay Institute fame restructured the group as the Upper Ohio Valley Historical Society.
That effort also did not last. It was not until 1962 that the Wheeling Area Historical Society was reborn under the direction of Virginia Ebeling as president and the Rev. Clifford Lewis, S.J., of Wheeling College fame, as vice president.
This pairing led to the semi-annual publication of the Ohio Valley Historical Review, which will continue under the direction of current editor Beckah Karelis and the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. Karelis serves as historian for WNHAC and her editing work is performed at no charge.
Karelis said while she understands Brennan's wish to do other things, the historical society will eventually "rise again."
The historical society has gone through fits and bursts since its inception," Karelis said. "It will go to bed for a little while, but it will come back."
Brennan pointed out that so many other groups including WNHAC, the Ohio County Public Library's "Lunch With Books" program, the Friends of Wheeling, Oglebay Institute and West Virginia Independence Hall all serve a purpose when it comes to keeping Wheeling's history alive.
A lot of our history needs are being covered," Brennan said.
Karelis agreed, noting, however, there are "so many competing to serve the same purpose."
Margaret has been the life and blood of the historical society, and I know she will continue to contribute to the Historical Review," Karelis added. "And I believe the historical society will come back at some point. Right now there just isn't anyone to step into that position."
Brennan said the goal of the historical society since 1962 has been to "bring people and knowledge together" to promote the history of Wheeling through monthly newsletters, meetings and programs.
The group has accomplished those goals over the years with projects including the "Evening of Remembrance: It's Wheeling Steel" at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in 1991; the reunion of the Wheeling Ironmen, moderated by Ken Kadar in the 1990s; and a symposium on the Underground Railroad, also in the 1990s.
Through the years, the historical society enjoyed the works of various members including Margaret Bierkortte, Ellen Dunable, Beverly Fluty, Barbara Holloway, Ed Wolf, Patrick Brennan and David Javersak, Brennan noted.
The club has always been a small group. You can count on one hand the actual historians in Wheeling," Brennan observed. "I've enjoyed every minute of it and have been honored to do it. I just know it's time to move on."