Morgantown is full of extraordinary people. You might know them. You’ve probably seen them.
These Movers & Shapers are everywhere, pushing envelopes, thinking outside boxes, and rolling up sleeves to make this community an even better place to work and live. Their efforts, their presence, and their enthusiasm are indelible.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Morgantown magazine, we’ve chosen 10 Movers and Shapers from your nominations to honor their efforts thus far. We hope their stories serve as a rallying cry to the entire community. Together, we can continue transforming Morgantown into whatever we imagine it to be.
This Louisiana transplant turned Morgantown and West Virginia devotee has passion, energy, and tenacity in spades. Danielle Walker was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2018 and has spent each session since politely causing a ruckus, when necessary, especially when it comes to issues important to her constituents.
She has become a central figure in the area’s Black Lives Matter movement and squared off with counter protesters during a rally in Kingwood that garnered national attention. She’s committed to creating a diverse and inclusive West Virginia that offers equity for all of its citizens.
Walker isn’t afraid to speak her mind and push for change, whether she’s at the Capitol in Charleston or on the streets of her district in Morgantown. She recently lobbied Morgantown City Council to throw its support behind the CROWN Act, a legislative act to provide statutory protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles. One thing’s for sure: Walker will leave a mark on Morgantown by the time she’s done, and the community will be better for it.
Mark R. & Mark J. Nessellroad
The Morgantown community knows it can count on the Nesselroads to deliver, whether it be their time, their talents, or their labor. The father and son duo have been integral figures in making Morgantown what it is today, and their impact is felt in everything from individual buildings, like Suncrest Center, to entire districts, like the Sabraton business corridor and the Wharf District, even including major shopping centers like Glenmark Centre and community recreational and social service improvements in Mylan Park and Morgantown Community Resources.
What’s as important to them as their business pursuits, however, is the chance to give back. Both men are exceptionally active with area nonprofit organizations. “Molding and shaping a community is much more than real estate or business development,” the younger Nesselroad says. “It is imperative for overall work–life balance, health, and overall enjoyment to live in an area that cares and invests in quality of life.” The elder Nesselroad agrees and says he’s found the most peace and joy in life helping the community.
A.J. Hammond wasted no time jumping into the efforts to revitalize downtown Morgantown. As president of the Main Street Morgantown board and as relationship manager at Citizens Bank, he is inspired by the community’s momentum. “We have so much opportunity here, so much that hasn’t even been tapped into over the years,” he says.
Hammond has taken a particular interest in the historic buildings downtown and the old, stately homes of South Park. He and a friend are restoring one on Grandview Avenue that captured their attention and his imagination. After he investigated the home’s history, he was inspired to create an Instagram account, @historicmorgantown, through which he shares the historical accounts of familiar and unfamiliar structures in town.
“Every chance that we get to restore an old building, we should. And if we start, then maybe other people will follow,” he says. “We have no shortage of buildings with charm and character, and each one is an opportunity to protect and preserve the history that we already have downtown.”
Rarely does dirt fly in Morgantown without Brian Gallagher knowing where it’s supposed to land. As an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson, Gallagher has shepherded some of the area’s biggest real estate deals and economic development projects. He’s a people connector with a wealth of knowledge, and his expertise in everything from land acquisition to tax incentives keeps projects moving.
He remembers his first big project—the Glenmark Centre—fondly. “I was involved from day one buying the property. The Nesselroads and Adrians have been great clients and friends, and I owe them a lot of credit for my success.” He’s also proud of his work with the Lynch family on University Town Centre and WestRidge and the Adrians on the Morgantown Industrial Park.
Gallagher credits Steptoe & Johnson with giving him his start. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by a very talented and selfless group,” he says. “And this community is filled with extraordinarily talented people and an energy that is pretty unique for the size of the town. It’s very satisfying to contribute to it.”
There is social change afoot in Morgantown, and plenty of people are making it possible. One of them is First Presbyterian Pastor Zac Morton, who arrived in Morgantown three years ago and very quickly got started effecting change. He developed partnerships with Morgantown Pride and Fairness WV. He’s lobbied for the Fairness Act, which seeks to make members of the LGBTQ community a protected class. He’s united with local food pantries and food service organizations downtown and led the creation of a foster closet at the church. He’s been heavily involved in the Greater Morgantown Interfaith Association, which sponsors meet-ups that are open to different religious groups around town to combat racism, forge relationships that might not otherwise exist, and galvanize progress on community issues.
“I’m really inspired by young and old people alike invested in this community. They feel like they can make a difference here and they try, and I see more and more people working together to bring about change. Morgantown is already changing for the better.”
One of Sarah Palfrey’s favorite places is right inside the Morgantown Public Library on a Saturday morning during the summer. “I come in even though I’m not working,” she says. “The people are fantastic.”
Palfrey came to the library system in 2017 and began with an overhaul of the library card. Applying for a card can now be done online, and digital cards allow for access to the library’s online collection remotely, increasing accessibility in a big way. She and her staff have also gone out into the community to meet people where they are to sign them up. “There are a lot of things in life that are hard, and getting a library card shouldn’t be one of them.”
Her mission is to build a stronger partnership between the library and its community. “Libraries are relevant because communities need spaces to gather to share ideas, to explore new worlds, to feel like they are part of something—even if that something takes place inside the pages of a book.”
Ella Belling has always been drawn to the visionary aspect of rail-trails—transforming industrial routes into greenways. She’s spent more than 20 years living that vision as part of the Mon River Trails Conservancy, first as a volunteer and then as its executive director since 2000. In that time, she’s developed a management plan for the trails and helped to expand the network.
“Each time I bike or walk the rail-trails, I feel the beauty of adventure,” she says. “They give us places to play and recreate close to home and a place to encounter and learn about our natural world. These trails can be a direct route to an environmental ethic of stewardship and love for the natural world that is part of our community.”
Day-to-day, Belling manages the 48-mile Mon River Trail system that she believes will be a legacy serving Morgantown for generations to come. She’s energized by movement toward trail connectivity for Morgantown, with similar projects in the works in Clarksburg, Fairmont, Parkersburg, and towns across southwest Pennsylvania.
For Dominick Claudio, life should be all or nothing, no matter what. That’s his attitude in business, in service, and in his enthusiasm for the future. “Somewhere along the way I focused on doing good, and I knew that I could do good and do well at the same time,” he says.
Claudio, chairman and CEO of Claudio Corporation, drew upon his entrepreneurial experience as a youngster selling found items at the local flea market when he opened his first Star City business, Unique Consignment. His business empire has since grown tenfold. He’s responsible for blocks worth of real estate redevelopment—from Star City to High Street and the industrial park and from Morgantown to Clarksburg—as well as countless new ventures. He owes every bit of his success to community support, he says.
He’s excited to be part of Morgantown’s future, too. “We have an unlimited potential for growth here,” he says. “It’s one of few places in the state that can command a brighter, better future. We can become whatever we want to be.”
DAvid & Rick Biafora
David and Rick Biafora have moved more dirt in Morgantown than most other real estate developers. They’re the pair behind Suncrest Towne Centre and Pierpont Properties, which own and operate more than 25 apartment and townhome complexes under the Metro Properties umbrella and which are currently working on transformational plans for a mixed-use development near downtown. Together they own almost 2 million square feet of office and retail space in Morgantown and beyond.
The Biafora brothers were born and raised in Morgantown and wouldn’t live anywhere else, they say. Their motivation to keep building and renovating comes from a desire to create nice things for the community. “We travel, and we see things in other states and around the country that we’d like to see here. We come home, and we try to make it happen,” David Biafora says.
The Biaforas are now busy envisioning the best use for 10 acres on Richwood Avenue that will include shops, public spaces connected with the rail-trail, residential and office space, incubator space, and more, all walkable to downtown.
If Tom Bloom had a Hollywood stage name, it would probably be “Mr. Morgantown.” Bloom is everywhere, involved in almost everything, and he’s been that way since moving to Morgantown from Philadelphia more than 40 years ago.
Bloom got his start in politics on the Morgantown City Council and served there for 14 years before moving to the Mon County Commission, on which he still serves. With countless community partners, he’s made big things happen: from the Morgantown Area Youth Services Project, his first passion project in the 1970s, to recycling programs, homelessness initiatives, strategies to grow tourism and economic development, the Pantry Plus More to address food insecurity, and so much more. He chalks all of this progress and success up to collaboration and partnership. “No matter what I’ve done, it’s a shared effort. I couldn’t move my wild ideas without other people in this community helping me make them happen. It’s all about working together, making partnerships, and finding others who want to be part of the solution.”