Brilliant, Ohio, native Denise Pentino was determined to graduate from college early. To achieve this goal, the then 20-year-old Wheeling Jesuit University student needed to attend summer night classes while earning money during the day, so she applied to be a lifeguard at Oglebay.
“They didn’t hire me to lifeguard; those are coveted jobs that got filled long before I applied. But they took a chance and hired me to paint park signs,” Denise shares. She spent the summer of 1989 lugging a ladder all over the park painting the brown signs with the yellow lettering that still dominate the park. “It was a typical eight-hour day that started at 7 a.m. – not a fun start-time for a young college student.
“One day, my supervisor, Dennis Jones, tells me, ‘You’re painting yourself out of a job. Slow down.’ I didn’t understand until I literally painted myself out of a job.”
Dennis took pity on the college student who still needed to earn money and introduced her to the director of horticulture and grounds. “Chris Schenkel thankfully hired me for the rest of the summer. Now I’m lugging heavy hoses and bags of mulch all over the park. It was hard work, and I’m working with a bunch of hardline old-timers who had a very precise and specific way of doing things. I loved every minute of it,” Denise remembers with a warm smile.
It comes as no surprise that Denise achieved her goal and graduated in December 1990 with a degree in political science with a criminal justice minor. Law school at West Virginia University didn’t start until August 1991, so Denise went back to Oglebay and asked if she could work in the greenhouses again.
She spent that winter and spring learning everything she could from the experts – from seed germination to planting flower beds all around the Hilltop. At the end of her first year of law school, other law students were applying for clerking jobs at law firms. However, Denise wanted to go back to Oglebay. Dave Holloway, the then vice president of human resources,
hired Denise to help the Wheeling Park Commission comply with the newly enacted Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Denise’s new job had her meeting with and interviewing all the department heads throughout the park system and rewriting or creating new job descriptions that made appropriate accommodations to ensure the park’s hiring practices complied with the new law.
“I would come to work all dressed up for my interviews and meetings, but I ate every lunch with my friends on the horticulture and grounds team.”
Today, Denise is the managing partner of Dinsmore & Shohl’s Wheeling office, one of the firm’s offices around the country, focusing her practice on commercial litigation law. “I’ve had a wonderfully symbiotic relationship with Oglebay. The park took chances with me and gave me so many opportunities to break out of my comfort zone. I was blessed to be able to accept these opportunities and, as a result, the park and its people taught me so much. I know it’s said all the time, but Oglebay is truly a gem; it gives so much to the community in very tangible ways.”
As a true lover and user of the park, Denise’s favorite spot in the park is a bench below the Garden Bistro. She walks the arboretum trails regularly “following the red brick path, past Bambi and down to Schenk Lake” bragging to anyone who will listen, “I used to plant these flower beds.”
Denise has named the Oglebay Foundation as a beneficiary of her estate to give back to the park that helped her get her start and that continues to give her so much.