Community says goodbye to WVU-P’s Gnage

PARKERSBURG – Officials and community members gathered Thursday at West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s Downtown Campus to say farewell to outgoing President Marie Foster Gnage.

Gnage will resign from her position at the end of this month, heading to Jacksonville, Fla., to become one of five regional presidents for Florida State College. Rhonda Tracy will take over July 1 as WVU-P’s interim president.

About 100 people attended the reception at WVU-P’s Culinary Arts Academy at the Downtown Campus building on Market Street in Parkersburg. The event was sponsored by the WVU-P Board of Governors, WVU at Parkersburg Foundation Board of Directors, United Bank and WesBanco.

The event was catered by the culinary arts program and Gnage was presented with a one-of-a-kind Fenton Art Glass Favrene vase with images of the college’s campus, clock and bell.

Gnage said the event and the community support were overwhelming.

“I’m without words,” she said. “It is definitely bitter-sweet. I see all the people I love and have worked with and it makes me sad to go. The college has been a labor of love.”

Gnage has been president of WVU-P for 10 years, and during her time at the helm the college has increased its programs, student enrollment has skyrocketed, and the college has made massive improvements to existing facilities as well as adding multiple facilities.

“You always want to leave a place better than when you found it,” Gnage said. “I hope that I am leaving a seed so that people who come after me can build and improve upon what I’ve done.”

Senta Goudy, executive director of West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation, said though Gnage’s departure is sad, it marks a new chapter for the school.

“I think it is a great opportunity for everyone. Marie has done a great job, and now she is passing it on,” Goudy said. “It is the beginning of a new era. She’s built this wonderful foundation and it is up to us to take what she has done and continue with that good work.”

Gerard El Chaar, chairman of the WVU-P Board of Governors, said officials this month will begin the search for Gnage’s successor.

“We’re happy that Dr. Gnage has found another opportunity, but we’re sad to see her go,” El Chaar said. “It’s an exciting time, looking for a new president, and we’re going to start that process very soon.”

El Chaar pointed to the downtown campus as an example of Gnage’s legacy.

“Colleges provide an engine for growth, and that is something downtown Parkersburg has needed,” El Chaar said. “We’re sitting in a place Marie has worked very hard on, and we hope to use this to attract even more business to downtown.”

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell agreed, saying Gnage’s efforts spanned well beyond the college’s main campus which sits just outside of the city.

The downtown campus “has been a huge deal for the city,” Newell said. “Gnage has been a huge part of this community. She sees beyond just the college campus. She’s going to be missed.”

Gnage said while it is difficult to say goodbye, she was grateful Thursday’s reception gave her the chance to say it in person to so many people.

“When I came here … I felt welcomed to the neighborhood, and now I am leaving my neighborhood,” she said. “But I’ll stay in touch.”