OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Grimm right at home behind the wheel at Wheeling Jesuit

WHEELING – John Denver forever endeared himself in the hearts of West Virginians with his 1970s pop hit ”Country Roads.”

In it, the late singer/songwriter spoke of a place where the Shenandoah River flows and the Blue Ridge Mountains tower.

It’s a place Denny Grimm knows well.

As Wheeling Jesuit University’s Transportation Coordinator, Grimm is entrusted with the task of driving members of the school’s 21 varsity sports squads, not only to places in West Virginia, but points beyond.

It’s a job he takes seriously.

”Seeing the different sports and making sure the kids get here and back safely is something I really enjoy,” Grimm said. ”I take pride in that. We do things in a safe manner.”

And its a safe bet the Cardinals’ coaches and administrators notice.

Jim Regan, the school’s longtime men’s soccer coach, sees Grimm as kind of an ”Uncle Buck” figure.

”He genuinely cares about the kids as one of his own,” he said. ”He is not only a bus driver, but an assistant coach, trainer and No. 1 fan.

”His No. 1 priority is to always get the kids safely back and forth to a contest. He’s also the first to ask how we did if someone else transported us to an event.

”The kids and staff feel Denny will do anything for us to help make our trips safe and successful every time we leave campus.”

Grimm grew up in Pennsylvania, attended school in Strongsville, Ohio, and settled in the Ohio Valley thanks to the tire business he was in.

Not long after retiring, he saw an ad in the newspaper where WJU was looking for a temporary driver. He applied for the job, got it and the rest, as the say, is history.

”I enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. ”Everything I’ve done in my life has met the needs of this job. It’s kind of like I was destined for this. If you like what you do, it’s not work.”

About two years after starting, he moved up to full time.

”I told my wife (Frances) I’d like to do this full time and she said, ‘Well, whatever makes you happy.”’

Grimm spends about five days a week driving students to various events. Laws limit the number of hours he can drive.

”From mid-August to mid-May, we’re pretty busy,” he said.

This weekend he took the track teams to Baltimore for a meet. Friday it was the women’s lacrosse team’s turn to be in Grimm’s good graces, while softball was also on his itinerary.

”It’s usually three or five days of actual driving,” Grimm said. ”The other days are used for maintenance, etc.”

Grimm also is responsible for arranging transportation for WJU staff members and coaches.

”Right now, we have one bus and one van and we’re looking to expand that and eliminate some of the charters we do,” Grimm explained. ”When you charter a bus its very expensive. They’ve found it’s more economical to have our own.”

WJU’s jewel is a 56-seater. Grimm learned how to drive the large vehicles while working at his tire business when he’d serve as a substitute drive for a customer’s charter company.

About 85 percent of his time on the road involves WJU athletics. The rest is spent transporting students to various academic pursuits.

Danny Sancomb appreciates what Grimm does for the university – on and off campus. He’s worked with him in numerous capacities – as a player, assistant coach, head coach, athletic director and, now, head of athletic fundraising.

”Denny is great,” Sancomb said. ”He treats our coaches and athletes first class.

”He understands the mission of WJU and serves our students in an incredible way. He cares if we win or lose and he always has something positive to say to the team and coaches.”

Driving the bus can have it’s challenges, such as weather. This past winter, while driving the swim team to the Appalachian Conference Championships in Christiansburg, Va., Grimm encountered the city’s worst snowstorm in about 25 years – 20 inches.

”We got stuck twice,” he said. ”We had some parents come along and help shovel us out.”

The trips can be long, but Grimm said the athletes and coaches keep them interesting. On his birthday, March 4, members of the women’s lacrosse team treated him to a rendition of Happy Birthday and a treat to celebrate.

”That was a nice surprise,” he said. ”We have a Chinese girl on the team and she sang it to me in Chinese. The only word I could understand was Denny.”

Carrie Hanna, women’s soccer coach, saw Grimm’s affection for animals on one trip.

”In Concord years ago he let the women’s soccer team bring home a stray dog on the bus which was later adopted by the softball coach at the time,” she recalled. To that day that team still reminisces about that act of kindness and Denny being such a good sport about it.

”In the end, it’s about making memories and establishing traditions.”

One tradition Grimm established was the playing of Denver’s ”Country Roads” whenever any one of his trips returned to the Mountain State.

”It’s just something I started to kind of wake everyone up when we cross the border,” he said smiling. ”They all start singing it. Now, if I don’t do it, they ask me to do it.”

If you know of someone involved with sports at any level in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com