Editor’s Note:In January 2023, Grow Ohio Valley will enter a new era, as co-founder and Executive Director Danny Swan steps aside to make way for its next Executive Director Jason Koegler. Yesterday, we heard from outgoing director Danny Swan, who reflected on his work with the organization. Today, we hear from incoming Executive Director Jason Koegler.
In January I will assume the role of Executive Director of Grow Ohio Valley and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Board and the Leadership Team of this amazing organization that I have admired since its founding.
Like so many of my peers, members of the 1993 Wheeling Park High School graduating class included, I left the Ohio Valley in the search of a higher education and a better place to live and work. At the time, Wheeling seemed to be entering the bottom of its “rust belt” depression. The Valley’s steel manufacturing plants (where both of my grandfathers spent their working lives) were shutting down their blast furnaces, the downtown department stores were closing their doors, and Wheeling’s population was half of what it had been in the 1950s. But even far from home, the passion I held for Wheeling never left me. I nurtured friendships, which I still hold today, with a dynamic group of hometown friends. I would often have the Sunday Intelligencer and DiCarlo’s pizza mailed to me, and I tried to never miss the opportunity to come home for the holidays, Oglebayfest and Jamboree in the Hills. Maybe it was the unique blessing I had in growing up on the grounds of Oglebay Park. Maybe it was just the contagious Wheeling Feeling.
In the summer of 2007, I moved with my young family back to Wheeling from the Bay Area of California. The inspiration for doing so was rooted in cost of living and proximity to family. I secured employment at West Liberty University, and my wife, Sarah, was able to work from home, so we decided to give this crazy idea a shot. What we soon discovered was a Wheeling that held the potential for rebirth, and we felt compelled to translate our passion into action. Because unlike the transient nature of a place like the Bay Area, Wheeling offers a unique opportunity for those who want to engage in “making a difference”.
Do Something: Co-Founding Weelunk
In 2014, I – along with my lifelong friend Steve Burke, who also had recently moved back to Wheeling – co-founded this very platform Weelunk.com. That same year, Danny Swan and a team of passionate people founded Grow Ohio Valley. Was this timing a coincidence? Were these start-ups products of the dedication of so many in efforts to revitalize Wheeling? Whatever the cases may be, I have always been a huge fan and advocate of Danny and GrowOV. Weelunk’s mission is to Do Something and Danny Swan and GrowOV have been doing just that, and then some, for the past eight years.
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West Liberty University
Since 2007 I have had the privilege to work for another local change agent which is just slightly older than Weelunk and GrowOV: West Liberty University – founded in 1837. I currently serve as its Vice President of External Affairs and have held a seat on the president’s cabinet since 2011. My roles at WLU have mostly centered in the areas of management, fundraising, community engagement, government relations and marketing. Since 2007 WLU attained university status, has more than doubled its endowment, has completed many capital improvements and has introduced several graduate programs. I am proud of what my WLU colleagues and I have accomplished over this time and I am most proud of the impact we have had on WLU’s mission and students. The Ohio Valley is a better place today due in part to the faculty, staff, students, benefactors and alumni of this great institution.
Now it is time to bring my experience and learnings and growth from the hilltop to GrowOV as it embarks on the next phase of its growth. My perspective on this organization and its future can be divided into two buckets: its mission and its programming.
Growing Community Through Local Food
The casual observer of GrowOV will think of the organization in terms of food and farming. Yet, it holds a dynamic mission that it has been serving since its inception. GrowOV strives to improve the health and the economic future of its region by creating a robust and sustainable local food system, built by and for the community, fueling both of these areas. It is important for stakeholders and community members to understand that GrowOV is more than providing locally sourced food, but is a change agent for the improvement of the overall health of its greater community, while simultaneously serving as an engine for economic development.
Renderings of the Wheeling Food Hub - one of Grow Ohio Valley’s current startup projects.
Grow Ohio Valley’s Edible Mountain public health coalition aims to make Ohio County the healthiest county in WV, especially for youth.
I feel the established elements of GrowOV, such as the Public Market, the Urban Farming initiatives, the Food Justice Immersions, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Educational programs provide a solid foundation for the ambitious new initiatives that include the Edible Mountain and the Wheeling Food Hub. For these established and new endeavors my goal is to nurture the existing relationships with partners that include the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Benedum Foundation, the Schenk & Hess Family Foundations, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), the City of Wheeling and many more. Through awareness and cultivation efforts, I aim to lead an effort to diversify GrowOV’s impact through potential partnerships with dynamic organizations like Oglebay Park, and also through individual private support. As I have learned at WLU, telling the story of an organization in a clear and compelling way is vital to maximizing the organization’s potential and this will be a top priority of GrowOV moving forward.
I truly feel that Wheeling and the greater Ohio Valley are on the precipice of dynamic growth. As our area enters the next phase of its storied history I am confident that GrowOV will function as a support entity every step of the way. I speak for my family, Sarah, Campbell, Will and Cora, when I say that I am grateful for this opportunity and that I am ALL IN.
Let’s Do Something together, Ohio Valley.
Let’s Grow together, Ohio Valley.
• Jason Koegler is a Wheeling native who grew up on the grounds of Oglebay Park. He serves as the Vice President for External Affairs at West Liberty University where he has worked for 15 years and served as a member of the President’s Cabinet for 11 years. He is a co-founder and served as the first CEO of Weelunk.com. He lives in Wheeling with his wife Sarah and children Campbell (16) Will (15) and Cora (6).