On the passing of Ellis Boury, the last of the Boury brothers, fond memories have again risen with their initial sponsorship of the Elby's race, together with co-sponsor First National Bank of Elm Grove.
The original founders of the race, P.D. Caseman, Don Jebbia, Leo Miller, Ken Ralston, Dr. Lee Jones, Dr. Jay Fast, and I, got together and decided we wanted to have a race in Wheeling. Back in the early '70s, if you wanted to run a race, you had to travel to Akron, Massilon, Butler and further. Don Jebbia, whose father at the time was the major stockholder in First National Bank of Elm Grove, said the bank would put up half the money needed if we could get a co-sponsor for the other half. Don suggested the Boury Brothers as they were major patrons of the bank.
After meeting with the brothers at the downtown Boury offices, we found that they were more than anxious to participate in the event. George Boury was quoted as saying "if we get involved, we want it to be first class." And from the get-go, the race was a first class event. One note of humor was the remark made by Ellis Boury, "Who will want to watch people running around Wheeling in their underwear?" To that Mike Boury said, "Let's get it on!"
Another memory was that after the meeting with the Boury brothers, we thought we should check to see if the brothers were sincere in their sponsorship commitment. So we decided to go to the old Anchor Room for dinner and drinks and give the bill to Elby's. No questions asked: Everything was a "go" so the race was on.
The race gained national and international attention as it was the USATF 20K Men's championship for eight years, as well as Olympic qualifier. Due to the prestige and reputation as well as its challenging course, elite runners from 69 countries participated in the race.
Through the years many notable personalities were distinguished starters of the race, such as Congressman Robert Mollohan, then Gov. Jay Rockefeller and Steeler-great Franco Harris, to name a few.
After the banquet at the Civic Center, a huge picnic was held at the Haller Shelter with all runners and their friends invited. That evening another party with music and dancing with The Shop band was held at Sonneborn Shelter for all runners and friends.
Thanks to Bill Van Horne, a major proponent of the race from its inception, who through his expertise in interviewing the elite runners as well as many interesting and personal stories, the race gained more and more attention. Bill made personal calls to the elite runners to get their bios and got personal stories about runners with MS, muscular dystrophy, blind runners and wheelchair participants.
In later years, the Big Boy chain became a co-sponsor with Elby's, mainly through the auspices of Bill Morgan, who was chief CEO of Big Boy. His main concern was that the race would continue to be a first class event. Mr. Morgan lived in Michigan but kept his close contact with race proceedings and never missed attendance at the race-day festivities.
All in all, George, Mike and Ellis Boury along with Bill Morgan gave Wheeling and West Virginia national and international prominence.