Longtime Muny CEO Denny Reagan to step down after 2021 season
Denny Reagan is convinced that everyone has a Muny story. He feels this way because once anyone learns that he is president and CEO of the St. Louis institution, they are eager to share their story with him.
“It’s just wonderful to hear them, they mean so much to me,” Reagan said. “I’m always the most popular guy at a cocktail party, that’s for sure.”
In an interview with The American, his infectious laughter was a constant. From the beginning it was clear that the joy and kindness that has become part of the Muny’s organizational identity starts at the top.
“I truly believe that nice guys finish first,” Reagan said. “We all know the saying that nice guys finish last, but I feel that the opposite is true. I think having adopted that philosophy has given me a great standing with the public, with my contemporaries in the industry — and certainly with the staff and all the employees at the Muny.”
Last month, he announced his plans to retire from the Muny after a 53-year affiliation. Along with the news, Reagan was eager to tell the Muny story he knows better than any other and has had the biggest impact on his life – his own.
Reagan’s Muny story began in 1968. While a student at Bishop DuBourg High School, he filled in for a friend on a cleanup crew. “I went out there to start picking up trash and one thing led to another,” Reagan said.
He fell in love with the atmosphere that the Muny provides — on both sides of the stage. It was when he stepped away briefly after graduating from UMSL that he knew the Muny was the place for him.
Although he worked backstage as a dresser during the summer stage season, he took another job as a purchasing agent — which meant he was no longer available to work in the office or during the off-season. The Muny called and asked if he might be interested in returning.
“I was so excited,” Reagan said. “I really missed the pace of the Muny, the excitement of the Muny and the ability to be a problem solver at such a young age.”
By 1974, he had found his forever home as far as his profession. He worked countless jobs across departments before rising to the ranks of president and CEO in 1991, a position he will have held for 30 years when he bows out next year after the Muny’s 103rd season.
He’s proud to be leaving the Muny with a completely renovated space and a healthy endowment. He’s also thrilled with his “incredible staff” that he says has worked collectively to create a culture filled with joy, appreciation and concern — especially when it comes to the customers.
One of his favorite things to do is to sit where he can see the spotlight make its way across the faces in the crowd.
“Just to sit there and watch that audience so intently concentrating on the stage and being entertained and being transported and knowing that you had some little part to do with that is so cool,” Reagan said.
He spoke with great detail — and pride — about how those thousands of faces in seats of their massive outdoor theater reflect the region.
“My hope for the future of the Muny is that it continues to be an extremely important part of this community,” Reagan said. “That it continues to bring the community together and that it continues to be a place where people have their first dates, where people get engaged and where people gather with generations of their family.”
Reagan’s own family was a motivator in his decision to retire.
“Michelle [his wife] and I have three children and six grandchildren,” Reagan said. “I want to make sure that I have time to spend with them while I can still get off the ground.”
His next chapter with the Muny will be as senior advisor. He will consult with the organization as they finish the capital campaign and assist as much as necessary during the transition of leadership.
“I just want to be able to offer advice when they need it, but I don’t want to get in anybody’s way,” Regan said.
His intention is to bring the institutional knowledge he’s acquired over the last half-century to the table and provide it to the next person in any way they think is helpful when they want it. He feels it’s the least he could do after the work environment he was blessed to have for so long.
“So many people work in jobs that they don’t necessarily enjoy. I can’t say that,” Reagan said. “From the day I stepped on the lot at 16 years of age, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my association with the Muny — and the Muny has done so much for me than I ever could have done for it. People say, ‘I gave the best years of my life to my job,’” he added. “Well, my job gave the best years of my life to me.”
For more information about The Muny, visit www.muny.org.