Meet the most famous and accomplished people with ties to the Huntington area...
You’ve seen them on TV, in the movies and on Broadway. Some of them are war heroes, emerging and legendary sports stars, captains of industry, journalists, artists, political powerhouses, and one even broke the sound barrier. Though they encompass a gamut of different traits and career paths, one thing remains the same. They all have ties to the Huntington region.
Huntington native and Marshall University graduate J. Mark McVey found fame on Broadway when he starred as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He went on to star in other Broadway hits in New York and around the world, before touring for several years with Marvin Hamlisch. Whenever he returns to Huntington, he performs for packed houses waiting to hear his golden voice.
Huntington’s most famous resident, Soupy Sales rose to stardom with his wild antics, popular TV and radio shows, books and movie appearances. Sales got his start as a journalism student at Marshall College studying under the legendary W. Page Pitt. After graduating, Sales took his talents to Cincinnati, Detroit and eventually New York and Los Angeles. He became famous nationwide for his slapstick comedy, improvisation, zany characters and, of course, throwing pies in the faces of well-known celebrities.
A stand-out high school player for Douglass High School in Huntington, Hal Greer made history when he became the first African-American to break the color line in West Virginia when he signed to play collegiate basketball at Marshall University. Greer went on to play in the NBA, where he had a highly decorated career including an NBA Championship. He was a 10-time NBA All-Star and was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Huntington honored the basketball great by renaming 16th Street “Hal Greer Boulevard.”
Universally recognized as the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson graduated from Douglass High School and later became its principal. A man who taught himself to read by studying a Bible, he was educated at Berea College and the University of Chicago before becoming only the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Woodson later founded “Negro History Week,” which we now celebrate each February as Black History Month.
Virginia Ruth Egnor grew up in Huntington before taking the name Dagmar and finding fame first on Broadway and later on TV. By 1950 the tall, buxom blonde who measured 42-23-39 was a household name appearing regularly on NBC’s Broadway Open House, Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theatre and The Bob Hope Show. It has been said that she was TV’s first glamour girl who generated laughs with her ad-libs and dumb-as-a-fox delivery. Her legend was cemented when she appeared on the cover of the July 16, 1961 issue of Life magazine.
Brad Dourif, stepson of local golfing legend Bill Campbell, made his own way in the world as an acclaimed actor. One of his first roles earned him an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He has since starred in countless films and TV series and today continues his prolific career.
Huntington native Carwood Lipton was made famous in 2001 by the hugely popular HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. The WWII hero was part of the renowned Easy Company in the 101st Airborne Division that parachuted into Normandy, France, on D-Day. Lipton was also involved in the historic assault on Carentan. Portrayed by actor Donnie Wahlberg in the miniseries, Lipton’s character even talks about growing up in Huntington.
Randy Moss, once called the greatest high school football player he had ever seen by Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, spent two years at Marshall University where he broke numerous school and NCAA records. In 1996 he helped the Herd go undefeated and earn their second NCAA I-AA national championship, before leading the program back to NCAA I-A competition in 1997. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL and is arguably considered the greatest wide receiver in the history of the game.
Verna Gibson started her career in retail working part time at The Smart Shop and later at The Princess Shop in Huntington before moving to Columbus, Ohio, and impressing The Limited’s CEO Les Wexner. Gibson rose through the ranks and in 1985 became the CEO of The Limited Stores, making her the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Today, Gibson sits on the boards for Chico’s and White House Black Market, which are thriving businesses in the heart of downtown Huntington.
Huntington native and local businessman Bill Campbell is considered by many to be one of the greatest amateur golfers in the history of the game. Winner of the 1964 U.S. Amateur, he also won dozens of other titles throughout his long and distinguished career. He made numerous contributions to the game including serving as president of the USGA and Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. In 1990 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. But for most Huntingtonians, he is best remembered as being one of the finest gentlemen the city has ever produced.
Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier, hails from nearby Hamlin, West Virginia. He honeymooned in Huntington at the Frederick Hotel and has strong ties to Marshall, where a scholarship, the Society of Yeager Scholars, has been named in his honor. A true American hero, he is considered by many to be the greatest pilot in history.
Award-winning actress Conchata Ferrell got her start on the stage of Marshall University before graduating in 1969. As the prostitute April Greene in the off-Broadway hit The Hot L Baltimore, she found stardom. Now, her 40-year career includes more than 100 roles on Broadway, in movies and on TV, including her iconic role as Berta on Two and a Half Men.
Huntington’s Michael Cerveris found his way to the streets of Broadway by way of Yale University. The Tony-winning performer has starred in such hits as Evita, Tommy and Sweeney Todd. The acclaimed actor has also appeared on television in Fame, CSI, Fringe, Treme and more. He has also appeared in numerous motion pictures.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Huntington who doesn’t love Chad Pennington. The handsome star quarterback set numerous school records at Marshall University before being drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the New York Jets. Pennington was a fan favorite in New York and later played for the Miami Dolphins. Despite twice winning the “Comeback Player of the Year” award, a series of injuries ended his pro career.
Kenova native and singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith left home more than 30 years ago to pursue a career in music. Some 15 million albums, three Grammys and more than 40 Dove Awards later, his achievements in contemporary Christian music have earned him national and international acclaim.
Best known as the unflappable host of TV game show Hollywood Squares, actor and singer Pete LaCock spent his teenage years in Huntington before adopting his stage name. After more than 5,000 episodes, and several Emmys as television’s Outstanding Game Show Host, Marshall still performs as a singer and was named to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
Academy Award-winner Matthew McConaughey spent several weeks in Huntington for his role as Marshall University Coach Jack Lengyel in the movie We Are Marshall. During that time, he met numerous local residents and today holds a special place in the hearts of many Huntingtonians for both his personal warmth and his iconic role in the film.
Huntington resident Troy Brown was considered too small to play football in the NFL, but the former Marshall University star wide receiver proved the critics wrong. He retired as a New England Patriot with three Super Bowl rings. Today, he gives back to the community he now calls home in numerous ways, including the Bartrum and Brown Football Camp.
You may not recognize him on the street but you’ve no doubt seen his artwork in your lifetime. Huntington’s own Chuck Ripper is a nationally renowned wildlife artist whose work has appeared in books, magazines, museums, stamps and even the cover of the L.L. Bean catalog. In 2012, the Chuck Ripper Trail opened at Harris Riverfront Park and features paintings of wildlife native to the Ohio River.
John F. Kennedy spent a lot of time in Huntington as part of his run for the 1960 presidency. Ever seen his famous photo at Jim’s? West Virginia was a pivotal state because it had a very low Catholic population, and Democratic Party leaders told Kennedy that if he could win West Virginia then the nomination would be his. Despite strong opposition to his religious background, the charismatic young senator won the hearts of the voters and defeated opponent Hubert Humphrey handily. He went on to defeat Richard Nixon to become our nation’s 35th president.
Hollywood star Paul Newman traveled to Huntington in September 1966 to prepare for his role in the critically acclaimed movie Cool Hand Luke. His character in the movie was to be a war hero from Appalachia. As such, the Academy Award-winning actor spent four days in town studying the dialects of residents in rural parts of Cabell, Wayne and Lincoln counties. His run-ins with local residents are now legendary.
For decades, people speculated that Jesse James and his gang of bandits robbed the Bank of Huntington. However, that is only partially true. As HQ reported in a 1990 article, historians later discovered that Jesse James was not actually involved. Instead, it was his brother Frank James and Cole Younger, part of the infamous James Younger Gang, who robbed the Bank of Huntington that now part of Heritage Station in downtown Huntington.
Legendary coach Cam Henderson spent a good deal of his life at Marshall as both football and basketball coach. He is best remembered for his contributions to the game of basketball, including inventing the zone defense and the fast break. Many Huntingtonians think he should be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his innovations and contributions to the game.
Funny man Billy Crystal found his way to Huntington in 1965 on a baseball scholarship to Marshall University. However, the New York City native returned home after his freshman year when the baseball program was suspended. Nevertheless, he made some lasting memories while in town, most notably at Monty’s Pizza where he proclaimed their pies were simply “Mahveloussss!”
Frank “Gunner” Gatski personified the word “toughness” during his football career. The son of a coal miner from Farmington, West Virginia, he played for Marshall in 1940 and 1941. Gatski went pro and played starting center for the Cleveland Browns where he protected quarterback Otto Graham and paved a path for running back Marion Motley. His teams won four NFL Championships. Gatski was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and is the only player at Marshall to ever have his number (72) retired.
Matt Lauer, the longtime co-host of The Today Show, can trace his beginnings in broadcasting back to Huntington. During his senior year at Ohio University he began an internship at WOWK that led to full-time work as a producer and reporter. As Lauer told HQ in 2007, he has fond memories of his time in Huntington including his co-workers and the numerous bars they frequented.
Huntington resident Matt Reese went to Washington, D.C., and became one of the first political consultants in the nation. His pioneering work and political savvy earned him the moniker “The Godfather of Political Consulting.” He worked on numerous campaigns in America and around the world, including Robert F. Kennedy’s run for the White House.
The founder of Shoney’s Restaurant was none other than Huntington native Alex Schoenbaum. A football standout, he was considered a “Big Boy” on the campus of Ohio State University where he was an All-American tackle. It was only fitting the restaurant chain named its “All-American” burger after him.
Currently CNN’s senior Correspondent in Washington, D.C., Joe Johns graduated with a degree in political science from Marshall University after arriving on a track scholarship. First hired by NBC’s Tim Russert, Johns spent 10 years in Washington as the network’s Capitol Hill correspondent. He has won numerous awards, including an Emmy for his coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, and has been inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Canadian Andrew Wiggins came to Huntington to enroll at Huntington Prep, a basketball-focused college preparatory school. Labeled by many as the next LeBron James, Wiggins was a mega-star in Huntington before playing one year at Kansas. He then entered the NBA as the No. 1 pick. As this issue of the magazine goes to press, the Minnesota Timerwolves forward is heavily favored to win the NBA “Rookie of the Year” award.
Marshall University graduate Sean Callebs grew up in Huntington before becoming a nationally recognized reporter and news anchor. He was at CNN for 20 years, where he covered many of the important stories of our time and won a Peabody Award for his Hurricane Katrina reporting. After helping Afghanistan rebuild its TV, radio and film industries, he became a correspondent and anchor for CCTV-America.
Milton native Katie Lee is fast becoming a household name in the food world. After working at several high profile restaurants, she authored two cookbooks and one novel. She has appeared on dozens of television programs including The Today Show, The Early Show and The Martha Stewart Show. She is best known as one of the hosts on the Food Network’s talk show The Kitchen.
Mike D’Antoni brought his offensive flair to Marshall in the early ’70s from Mullens High School and helped the Herd to a 23-4 record and their highest national ranking ever, No. 8, in the 1971-72 season. He had a short career in the NBA before he blossomed as a professional player and coach in Italy. D’Antoni returned to the NBA as a coach and in 2005 won the NBA “Coach of the Year” award as the Phoenix Suns went 62-20 that season. He’s won 455 games as a coach in Denver, Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles.
Firin’ Byron Leftwich is one of the most beloved Marshall quarterbacks to ever wear the green and white. Leftwich led the Herd back from a 38-8 deficit in the 2001 GMAC Bowl as Marshall beat East Carolina 64-61 in double overtime. The iconic television image of him being carried down the field with a broken leg by his offensive linemen in the Herd’s game against Akron in 2002 still runs on highlight shows devoted to courageous moments in sports. He was the highest NFL draft pick in Herd history, picked seventh by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
O.J. Mayo’s name was already well known in basketball circles before he could even drive a car. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 28 points per game during his senior year at Huntington High, helping the Highlanders win their third straight Class AAA championship. Mayo played one year in college before being selected as the third overall pick in the NBA draft. In seven years with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayo has averaged nearly 15 points a game.
Chris Cline, the wealthiest man in West Virginia worth an estimated $2 billion, is regarded by Bloomberg Magazine as the “New King Coal.” The mining entrepreneur and philanthropist is a Marshall University alum who recently made a major contribution to the university for its indoor practice facility, which was named in his honor.
Patrick Patterson honed his game at the Huntington YMCA before he became a star at Huntington High. The 6-foot-9 big man helped the Highlanders to three straight state championships from 2004-2006 and teamed with O.J. Mayo his senior season to form the “Dream Team.” Patterson was selected as a McDonald’s All-American before beginning a prolific career at the University of Kentucky. Patterson was drafted 14th overall in the 2010 draft by the Houston Rockets. He has played professionally with the Rockets, the Sacramento Kings and the Toronto Raptors.
Paul Ambrose was well on his way to becoming the youngest U.S. Surgeon General in history when his life was cut short during the attacks of 9/11. Ambrose, 32, was flying to Los Angeles to attend a conference on youth obesity prevention when his plane crashed into the Pentagon. A champion for improving public health care for all Americans, his legacy lives on in the dozens of scholarships and programs that bear his name around the nation, including Huntington’s Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH).
Lonnie Thompson’s retrieval and study of ancient ice cores from remote sites such as Antarctica led to his recognition as one of the first scientists to discover the problem of global warming. The Distinguished University Professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University graduated from Marshall as a geologist. He and his wife served as advisers for the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
In 2010, Jamie Oliver spent several weeks in Huntington when he brought his “Food Revolution” to the region. The basis for a popular television series on ABC, his goal was to reverse the trend of obesity in the Tri-State region starting with healthier meals at local schools. Huntington’s Kitchen, which was started by Oliver, is still open today and continues to educate local residents on healthy cooking.
A quick YouTube search of Jason Williams’ highlights is an exercise in hoops entertainment. The 6-foot-1 flashy guard from Dupont High School starred for Marshall for one season in 1995-96 and averaged 13 points and six assists per game. He was drafted seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings, where he was named to the NBA All-Rookie team. He was a member of the 2006 NBA Champion Miami Heat squad.
Jim Justice, the billionaire businessman with a big heart, was a tall, lanky golfer at Marshall University before taking over the family coal business. He expanded the company into dozens of different areas, most notably agriculture. Today he owns some 48 businesses, has breathed new life into the world-renowned Greenbrier Resort and continues to give back to local communities in West Virginia and his beloved alma mater.
Mike Bartrum came to Marshall University in 1988 hoping to become a quarterback, ended up as an All-American tight end and parlayed his uncanny talent as a long snapper into a 13-year career in the NFL. Bartrum was a key member of Marshall’s 1992 National Championship season, scoring the Herd’s first touchdown in that memorable 31-28 win over Youngstown State in 1992. Bartrum teamed up with his former college teammate and NFL star Troy Brown to form the Bartrum and Brown Football Camp that gives kids in the region a chance to learn from the pros.
Lea Ann Parsley was a two-sport star at Marshall. She played basketball for the Herd, scoring more than 1,000 points in her career and leading the nation in free throw percentage her senior season. She also was an All-Southern Conference performer in track and field. But it was what she did at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 1998 that brought her instant fame and notoriety. Parsley won a silver medal in the skeleton event, the first ever for an American woman in that Olympic sport.
Former Marshall University football player Jim Smith never found fame on the playing field but rose to international prominence as the president and CEO of Thomson Reuters – a multinational mass media and information firm. He oversees the company from his impressive office overlooking Times Square in New York City.
Critics have called Jean Edward Smith, a former John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University, “America’s greatest living biographer.” With 12 books to his credit, he’s perhaps best known for his biographies of John Marshall and presidents Grant, FDR and Eisenhower. He won the Francis Parkman Prize in 2008 for his biography of FDR and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his biography of Grant.
Jackie Hunt has the singular distinction of being the first athlete inducted into the Marshall Hall of Fame in 1984. Hunt achieved All-American status in 1940 and 1941 as a halfback for the Herd. In 1940, he scored a record 27 touchdowns, an NCAA record that would stand for 31 seasons. He scored 162 points in 1940, and that record wouldn’t be broken until 1996. Hunt was drafted after his college career by the Chicago Bears and played two seasons of professional football. In 2004, Hunt was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame.
Tammie Green was another two-sport star at Marshall who took her career to the highest level. Green played basketball and golf at Marshall. On the links, she won three tournaments her senior year and then worked her way up the ladder to the LPGA circuit. She was the LPGA “Rookie of the Year” in 1987. She won seven tournaments on Tour, including one major championship. Green also helped the USA to a Solheim Cup win over the European team at the Greenbrier in 1994.
Huntington native and Marshall University graduate Julia Keller was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2005 for her three-part series in The Chicago Tribune on the deadly tornado that struck Utica, Illinois. She is also the author of several novels and has taught at Princeton, Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.
Marshall alum John Fiedler hit it big in Hollywood as a movie producer. Some of his credits include Copycat and several John Waters films such as Pecker, Cecil B. Demented and Serial Mom. He is a long-time supporter of Marshall University and is married to actress Bess Armstrong, who has appeared in numerous movies and the critically acclaimed TV series My So-Called Life.
Brian McCann mans home plate at baseball’s most storied franchise – the New York Yankees. What many people don’t know is that McCann’s formative baseball years were spent in Huntington. His father, Howard, was the baseball coach at Marshall University, and Brian honed his game at the old League 6 field in the Southeast Hills area of Huntington. McCann is a seven-time All-Star and has had a tremendous career with Atlanta and, now, New York.
Marshall University graduate Harvey White is the co-founder of San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., a giant in wireless telecommunications. The company employs some 26,000 people worldwide and has $45 billion in assets. Prior to founding Qualcomm, he also founded LEAP Wireless, which pioneered fixed monthly fees for wireless service pricing.
Some people may not know the name Brad Smith, but they should. The Kenova native and Marshall University alum is the current CEO of Intuit, the software giant and maker of Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. He oversees a multimillion dollar company from his corner office in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Donnie Robinson was a high school phenom at Ceredo-Kenova High School, where he was a three-sport star. He parlayed his strong right arm into a major league pitching career that lasted from 1978 to 1992. Robinson was part of the “We are Family” World Championship team of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. He was known as one of the best hitting pitchers of his era, winning three Silver Slugger Awards.
When Ahmad Bradshaw was at Marshall, to say he carried the offense on his shoulders might even be a bit of an understatement. In three seasons, the Bluefield, Virginia, native racked up nearly 3,000 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL draft by the New York Giants and scored the winning touchdown for the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
American blues and gospel singer “Diamond Teeth” Mary McClain was born in Huntington in 1902. Often hailed as the “Queen of Blues,” she performed with greats such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington. Eventually settling in Florida, she gave up her nightclub engagements and began singing gospel music, becoming a star at local churches. After her death, her ashes were scattered on the West Virginia railroad tracks where she first hopped a train, leaving home at age 13 to begin her promising career.
Rick Reed cut his baseball teeth at the old St. Cloud Commons baseball complex in Huntington’s West End. The former Huntington High and Marshall pitcher was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1986 MLB draft. He would bounce around the major and minor leagues for the better part of 10 years before he found his stride with the New York Mets. His best year for the Mets was the 1998 season when he won 16 games and was named to the National League All-Star team.
Raised in the hollows of Milton, Breece D’J Pancake earned an English degree at Marshall University before going on to find acclaim as an author of short fiction. Several of his stories about life in West Virginia were published in The Atlantic Monthly and wowed readers across the nation. Author Kurt Vonnegut called him the “best writer I’ve ever read.” Tragically, he committed suicide at the age of 27.
Ken Hechler came to Huntington in 1957 to teach political science at Marshall University after stints at Columbia and Princeton. As a WWII combat historian, he interviewed most of the high-level Nazi leaders and documented the major European battles. A researcher and speechwriter for President Harry Truman, he also wrote The Bridge at Remagen, which became a major motion picture. He served 18 years as a U.S. congressman from West Virginia, 16 years as West Virginia’s secretary of state and, at 100, is the oldest living U.S. congressman. In 1965, he was the only member of Congress to march with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama.
The former South Charleston High School star played his college career at Marshall University under Sonny Randle. Randle used to say, “If I had 11 Carl Lees playing for me, I’d still be coaching.” Lee was a star defensive back who was selected in the eighth round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Lee played 12 years in the NFL for the Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. He recorded 31 interceptions and two touchdowns in his NFL career and was named to the NFL Pro Bowl three times.
Many Huntingtonians may remember Bill Noe as the local YMCA and Marshall University swimming standout. But after years in the water, he took to the air as a pilot and eventually landed a job with NetJets, the private jet company owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. Noe rose through the ranks and today serves as president and COO of the largest private jet fleet in the world.