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Honor Frank Rodriguez

Editor, News-Register:

I have thought long and hard about how to handle this and the only way I know how to is to engage as many people as possible to get the right results. I have tried reaching out to the city and the Hall of Fame Board members, but they want me to do the work and still there are no guarantees. So, I will do the work for them, with your help.

In November of 1972, my father was hired by the City of Wheeling to be the new Wheeling Civic Center manager, starting December 1972. He was so proud and excited to be part of this amazing adventure in such a beautiful city. He didn’t realize what an adventure it would be. From the very start, people were for and against the project. For those of you who might not know or remember, the project in its entirety was to build the Wheeling Civic Center with attaching a Marriott Hotel and an indoor mall. All of this was to be in downtown Wheeling.

Many of the business leaders were against this because they thought it would diminish their business opportunities. They didn’t see competition as good business and keeping it in Wheeling was best. This was the argument at many of the weekly city council meetings. One week they were building the entire project (my father had a job) and the next week they were scrapping the whole idea and firing my father.

This was, of course, of great concern for a man who was married and the father of eight children. My father fought for this concept because he had seen what had happened to other cities like Wheeling. Many of the small, quaint, beautiful downtowns were dying off as progress was happening in neighboring communities. Wheeling at this time was thriving with 50,000-plus people and no one was concerned about the future. The mayor and city manager wanted to ensure a downtown that inspired growth, welcomed new ideas and provided jobs for our youth. The city finally came to an agreement to build the Wheeling Civic Center but to forget the hotel downtown or a downtown mall.

Since the Wheeling Civic Center wouldn’t be completed until 1976, the council decided to make my father the City of Wheeling Director of the Parks and Recreation while being the Wheeling Civic Center Manager. As the Wheeling Civic Center Manager, he oversaw the design, bid and building of the Wheeling Civic Center, working with promoters to bring in the best entertainment, hire and train the new staff, book the meeting space and buy equipment. As the Director of the Parks and Recreation, he initiated new programs at each park throughout the city such as hiring counselors to be at each park from 8-5 p.m. M-F through the summer months.

He added ballfields in areas around the city that were lacking. This provided someone to be there with your children for the day teaching them how to play basketball or baseball.

My father wasn’t paid for both positions and didn’t receive a raise for doing both. He did it as he did everything, with pride and a vengeance to do a job anyone would be proud of. He worked seven days a week from sun-up to sundown.

My father brought in acts and entertainment for all — something you might not enjoy but someone else would. The Wheeling Civic Center brought in people from all over to attend concerts (Doobie Brothers was the first concert), basketball (Harlem Globetrotters), Holiday on Ice, Ice Capades, Monster Truck Jam, the rodeo, etc. There was something for everyone. No one’s interests throughout the tri-state area was ever left out.

I am telling you this because I am very troubled. It came to my attention a few years ago that my father has never been inducted into the City of Wheeling Hall of Fame.

He deserves to be there for being the first Wheeling Civic Center Manager and for getting the Wheeling Civic Center built through drive and perseverance. I have tried to reach out to the city leaders and to the Hall of Fame Board. The first time I spoke with the board I was asked why should my father be inducted and I was shocked by this person but was told I needed to tell them why he deserved this. I shouldn’t have to tell the city what my father did and what it has meant to the city and what this facility has done for so many and is still a viable asset to the community today.

I know so many of you out there saw your first concert or took you children to Sesame Street or went to the New Year’s Party celebration at the Wheeling Civic Center. I ask you for your help and reach out to Robert DeFrancis, rdefrancis@wvncc.edu, chairman of the Wheeling Hall of Fame Board, and let him know what the creation of the Wheeling Civic Center has meant to you and why you feel my father should be inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame. The next induction isn’t until 2021. I am not sure my father will still be with us by then, but I can try to get him remembered. He also should have a plaque in the Wheeling Civic Center a.k.a. Wesbanco Arena as the first Civic Arena manager for the City of Wheeling. No one should have to die before they are honored for a job well done. It may also help to contact Wendy Scatterday, wscatterday@wheelingwv.gov, as I was told by the city that she would be looking into this for the mayor 10 months ago.

My father, for those of you who don’t know, is Frank Rodriguez, and is 91 years of age. He was a City of Wheeling employee from November 1972 to December 1984 (the rules say he has to have been an employee for at least seven years).

I would welcome your stories about what the Wheeling Civic Center has meant to you so that I can pass them on to my father and my seven brothers and sisters. Thank you for taking the time to hear my story and help me remember a man who is very deserving of this and more.

Please feel free to email me at: ellerod07@outlook.com.

BTW — The “Wheeling” mall went to St. Clairsville, Ohio becoming what you know today as the Ohio Valley Mall and the Ohio Valley Plaza. Losing all those tax dollars to Ohio was so very sad. All the businessmen that fought so hard against the downtown hotel and mall eventually closed their doors and moved out of our beautiful city leaving us with all the abandoned buildings and no tax base.

From a loving daughter,

Lisa Rodriguez

Wheeling

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