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Civic Leaders’ View: Honor, But Don’t Live in Wheeling’s Past

Ron Scott Jr. from the YWCA Wheeling explains how his perception of his hometown has changed in recent years. Listening Tuesday at the Ohio County Public Library are Betsy Sweeny from Wheeling Heritage and Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott.

WHEELING — Three civic leaders Tuesday called for honoring the past, but not living in the past, to seek inspiration for Wheeling’s direction.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Ron Scott Jr. from the YWCA Wheeling and Betsy Sweeny from Wheeling Heritage shared their vision for the city during the Ohio County Public Library’s final program in its Wheeling 250 series.

“We have to protect our treasured heritage, we have to continue to do what we do right, but we have to realize we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” Elliott said. “We have to be open-minded to new ideas and change.”

The mayor said he sees a community divided “into two completely separate camps”: people who think Wheeling peaked in the 1950s and folks who view the city in an exciting time and are looking to the future.

“Each of these points has some validity,” he added. However, “you can’t just look at the past through rose-colored glasses.”

In a nod to his fellow panelists, Elliott said a similar panel in the 1950s would have featured only white men. Now Wheeling is more inclusive and more diverse, although not perfect, he said.

Elliott, who puts himself in the optimistic camp, said, “Things are not perfect, but things are getting better.” On the plus side, he cited interest in real estate and entrepreneurship in the city.

Sweeny, a historian who has lived in Wheeling for a year, said there are lessons to learn from the past. She serves as historic preservation program manager at Wheeling Heritage.

She sees the city’s three major strengths as its history and built environment, its natural beauty, and creativity and innovation by past and current residents.

“No one is coming in to save us, but we have a lot of smart people here,” she said. “I think we’re in a really great position to move forward. … We have to appreciate the past, but not live in the past.”

On a positive note, Sweeny cited efforts to encourage youth to develop new solutions, collaborative projects to avoid fragmentation in the arts, taking steps to avoid isolation and finding commonalities among ethnic groups.

Scott, who works as cultural diversity and community outreach director at the YWCA, recalled that in the 1990s, some defined success as leaving Wheeling. But, he said, “I absolutely loved Wheeling, my hometown, my home state.”

His thoughts about the city changed in 2012, when he met Andrew and Patricia Croft, who came from Rhode Island and bought a house on 15th Street.

“They talked with an embodiment of fresh air. They were enjoying where they were,” he said.

Initially, Scott “went into defense mode” as he observed newcomers like the Crofts viewing the neighborhood as a blank canvas.

“They saw it differently. I started to see things the way they were seeing things,” he said. “These new folks seemed like the enemy at first. … That’s when I started to see the spirit of Wheeling change. … It was a whole paradigm shift for me.”

Referring to people who are injecting hope in the community, Scott said, “We’re laying blueprints down now for success that looks nothing like the blueprints of the past. … It’s real and actual success.”

For Wheeling’s next 250 years, he foresees “momentum, promise, hope and change that might be unrecognizable to me now.”

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