By Steve Novotney
They turned to science. Algorithms and crap like that. The stuff that originated with the real-life matchmakers who once considered likes and dislikes and what people had in common instead of simply lust.
One lived here, and the other lived there. They didn’t know each other – they had no reason to know each other – that is until they both pushed “ENTER” on their respective keyboards on the same November day.
Derrick McKee and his wife, Morgan, subscribed to eHarmony’s online service for the exact same reason – they wanted to find a partner to do, together, this thing we call life. Derrick likes to cook, but whipping up something a tad gourmet for a single serving proved to suck. Morgan likes to travel, but how much fun can it be to experience new places without someone with whom to share the experiences?
Click, click, click. Click, click, click. They both selected their favorite this and their favorite that, and Derrick and Morgan also had the option to determine a mileage limit for the contact search. But Morgan messed up. She meant to check the box for a smaller radius, but instead her chosen geographical limitation was circular enough to include Wheeling – and Derrick’s mug and profile.
“Thank God,” Derrick said with a smile. “If she hadn’t messed that up, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
In very different ways, the two of them had been searching for each other without even knowing it. Morgan, a native of Akron and a graduate of Copley High School and Ashland University, grew up unattached to her hometown and was wide open to change. Derrick, a 2002 grad of Central Catholic High School and WVU, on the other hand, has always loved Wheeling. He’s one of founding fathers and sisters of the Wheeling Wine & Jazz Festival, he ran for city council, and he conducted his music-career venture in his hometown.
McKee captured first place in the West Virginia Open for Business Plan Contest while getting his master’s degree in industrial relations, and he used the $10,000 prize to compose and produce a country music album. Following his 2006 commencement, he played live shows, sold CDs, and used the Internet in an effort to market his product.
“And then came the time to get the real job because it didn’t work as well I had wished, so I got a marketing position with Direct Online Marketing here in Wheeling,” Derrick explained. “I was there for close to two years, and then I went to work for Liberty Distributing.
“By that time, Morgan and I had started dating, and I knew she was going to go to law school. My plan was to move to Akron, get a job, and be with her while she got her law degree.”
Morgan, in the meantime, decided to enroll part-time in Akron University’s Law School after gaining a psychology degree from Ashland.
“My mom is a lawyer, and now she is a court-of-appeals judge, and she thought law would be a good area for me, so at first I started paralegal school. But one day I just started thinking about that career, and that’s when I decided to go to law school part-time and worked part-time.”
Work. School. School. Work. But one day, she heard a radio commercial that caught her attention.
“It made me think about where I was going to finally meet someone who wouldn’t eventually drive me crazy,” she said. “That’s when I decided I was going to try eHarmony, and that’s exactly what I did when I got home.
“After I answered all of the questions and hit, ‘Submit,’ I wanted to see my matches immediately, but that’s not how it works. It’s not immediate. But then the next morning I woke up and checked, and I had nine,” she continued. “And Derrick was one of them, and the same thing happened to Derrick the day after we both signed up and answered all of those questions.
“And then our first date was at Cracker Barrel in Cambridge, Ohio, because we thought that would be the middle point between where we lived at the time,” she said. “Our first date was over roast beef.”
“She grabbed my phone to see what I had music-wise,” Derrick said. “It’s a good way to get to know someone else. And then we went on a second date the next weekend, and then we kept going on dates every single weekend for the next eight months. That’s when I decided to move up to Akron in June 2010.”
Initially, McKee found employment with Cintas, a uniform and restroom supply company, and his sales area was close to his hometown.
“I took that job knowing we wouldn’t see each other very much during the week, but that was OK because of her schedule at the time,” he said. “Plus, the job involved covering the Wheeling area, too, so that allowed me to be here during the week before I would return to Akron to be with her on the weekends.
“During that time, there were plenty of trips that we made here, and she really liked it and made a lot of friends in this area,” Derrick continued. “So the way we looked at it, once she graduated from law school, we were going to move to Wheeling.”
Not so fast, McKee. Morgan admits that, at first, she was not in favor of the Friendly City as her future home.
“I wanted us to look into Pittsburgh because I figured it would be close enough for us to go to Wheeling whenever we wanted to,” she said. “But then we started coming down a lot, and the main reason why I changed my mind about moving to Wheeling was Derrick’s family and friends and because I got to know the city much better.”
On one of those trips, the couple attended the wedding of a friend. McKee had been scheming for a few months to propose marriage to Morgan, but despite the planning and the diamond purchase, his request was met with, well, rejection.
“I decided that I would propose to Morgan the day after the wedding, and she had no clue,” Derrick said. “We had a great time at the wedding, but I didn’t realize how tired she was from the reception.
“We were sleeping in my bedroom in my parents’ house, and at 7 a.m. I got up, and I put the ring and a note on our dog and sent him up to the bedroom to wake her up. And I started filming everything,” he said. “It’s really a great video because she wanted nothing to do with waking up that early.
“She opened the note, and told me to go away. When she saw the ring on the dog’s collar, at first she said, ‘Leave me alone. I’m trying to sleep.’ That’s when I took the ring off the collar, got on one knee and proposed.”
The pair was married 11 months later at St. Vincent’s in Elm Grove, and on the day they were departing for their honeymoon to Punta Cana, McKee learned he had been hired by GlaxoSmithKline, a global healthcare company. In July 2014, Derrick and Morgan bought a house close to their wedding site, and the McKees came home.
“One of the biggest reasons we came to Wheeling is the friends that I had and the friends Morgan had made during our trips here,” Derrick explained. “But I also love the fact that I can get on the trail in Elm Grove and run or walk all the way to downtown. That’s just one example of what we have here that people tend to take for granted, but when you live away from here you realize how lucky the people in Wheeling are.
“Wheeling is also something of a suburb to Pittsburgh. Fifty-five minutes and you’re in downtown Pittsburgh, so if you need that big-city feel, it’s right up the road,” he said. “We can get into downtown Pittsburgh quicker than people living in Bethel Park, and that’s a huge benefit for the people living here.”
Derrick is gleeful, but Morgan?
“I’ve been saying since I first started coming here that Wheeling has so much potential. The location is awesome, it’s right on the water, there’s a great riverfront, and this city has so much history,” she said. “There so much here that people are looking for, and my hope is that the additions just keep happening like they have been.
“We have had a lot of friends who have moved back for the same reasons we did,” she said. “They are moving back to raise their kids here but also because of what they have seen happening. No one can say there’s not forward momentum here. It’s exciting people.
“And when we lived in Akron, we would always check for festivals like that they have here all of the time in the summer, and we would never find anything,” she said. “But here? There was always something happening here, so that’s why we just loaded up the car and came here on the weekends. So yes, I am very happy here.”
She also finds it heartwarming that most of the West Virginians she’s come to know stop, sing, and smile anytime a particular tune is within earshot.
“I think what is so cool is that the people here have that Mountaineer song,” Morgan said referring to John Denver’s, “Country Roads” tune. “I think I’ve heard that one song 5 million times since Derrick and I first started dating. Everyone is just so proud of that song and the fact that is says, ‘Take Me Home,’ and everyone always sings it as loudly as they can.
“Everyone who grew up here has such good feelings about it,” she said. “It’s so nice that everyone is so proud to be from West Virginia and from Wheeling.”
McKee still works for GlaxoSmithKline, and Morgan is employed by local law firm Bailey and Wyant in downtown Wheelin. On the weekend, they seek fun.
“Pound for pound, with the people we have here, pound for pound, this area offers some of the best entertainment in the country,” Derrick insisted. “The festivals, team trivia at Generations, Irish Road Bowling, Blues Tuesdays – the list is very long. I’ve been all over the Rust Belt areas working the two sales jobs, and no place in the Rust Belt that I have seen has stayed a step above like Wheeling has.
“So many other places have realized far, far more decline than what’s happened here. Go drive through Monessen, Pa., and it will make you happy to be in Wheeling,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of bad things take place here in Wheeling, but nothing compared to what’s happened in other cities that were once industrial like this area was. But here, people of all ages are standing up and pushing for a future.”