Fighting Irish: Denny Mogan

Upon reaching the summit of his career, with life at its best, Salisbury’s Denny Mogan receives unimaginable news

Written by Jonathan Westman
Photography courtesy The Mogans

May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home. May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam. May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures. May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours! — An Old Irish Blessing

Dennis “Denny” Mogan IV is Irish to his core and lives the very essence of this blessing.
The Pittsburgh native’s family lineage is directly connected to Brian Boru, who ruled as the High King of Ireland from 1002-1014 and is widely regarded as one of the most successful and unifying monarchs of medieval times. Denny was born the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1980 and married the love of his life, Kateryna, on the famous Irish holiday in 2006. The proud father of sons Michael, 8, and Jack, 5, Denny enjoys an ideal homelife and possesses a joyful and charismatic personality that creates instant and lifelong bonds. He is fundamentally known for being one of the friendliest and most accommodating individuals one could meet. Denny is also a man of deep-rooted faith in God who serves an elected elder at Wicomico Presbyterian Church and volunteers on various parish committees.

After moving to Salisbury in 1992, Denny was a student at Bennett Middle and High Schools before attending Hampden-Sydney College and Salisbury University. He would go on to work in the local restaurant industry, acquiring knowledge while climbing each rung of the ladder, eventually becoming the general manager of EVO Public House and later an integral member of the brewery’s beverage division. In November 2019, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening a restaurant of his very own — Mogan’s Oyster House on East Main Street, in the heart of downtown Salisbury.

As its core revitalization continues, Salisbury civic and business leaders pointed to entrepreneurs like Denny as an anchor of the community — one who’s vision, work ethic and determination would help return the area to prominence. Mogan’s Oyster House quickly carved its niche as one of the area’s premier fine-dining establishments and the place in town for a genuine raw-bar/seafood experience. The restaurant’s reviews in the media and online are glowing, extolling its warm atmosphere, exceptional customer service and delectable meals created by Executive Chef David Wells. The readers of Coastal Style honored Mogan’s Oyster House with a record five Best Of 2020 awards, including Best New Restaurant and Best Chef — the most for a first-time entry on the readers’ poll.

For as close to perfect as Denny Mogan’s life appeared, Kateryna and others close to him were growing concerned by the periodic instances of slurred speech, painful swelling of his feet and sheer exhaustion. Dating back to late last summer, everyone originally attributed his ailments to the 12-to-16-hour days Denny was working to prepare Mogan’s for its grand opening. But as such episodes continued, Kateryna sought medical advice to determine their nature and what course of treatment could benefit her husband. Months of uncertainly, coupled with countless blood tests, body scans, specialists’ appointments and anxiously waiting for results, followed — all while readying, opening and operating a brand-new, bustling restaurant. In early spring, already confronted with the mandated closure of Mogan’s due to Covid-19 and the stressful uncertainty it presented, Johns Hopkins’ doctors ultimately made their diagnosis.

On March 17, 2020, just one day after he turned 40 and on their 16th wedding anniversary, Denny and Kateryna announced to Mogan’s staff that he had bulbar-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most aggressive form of the debilitating neurodegenerative disease, which has no cure.
To all who know him, it felt like Denny’s lifetime of justly accrued golden Irish luck had been instantly and cruelly stolen. “How could this happen to a person so young, who generously gave so much love and kindness to everyone around him?” those around the room asked one another.

 

Kateryna, a teacher at Snow Hill Middle School, has been able to care for Denny and their children from home since the pandemic forced the implementation of distance-learning measures, which are still in place in the Worcester County Public School system as it enters the new academic year. Denny’s younger brother, Brad, immediately took a leave of absence from his general-manager duties at The Establishment, a popular seafood restaurant in Charleston, SC, to relocate to Salisbury and oversee operations at Mogan’s Oyster House. Friends Jayme Clarke and Rob Mulford have created a series of fundraising events, named “Downtown for Denny,” which began on Sunday, August 30 at Market Street Inn. Brew River, Roadie Joe’s and MoJo’s in Salisbury, as well as Burley Oak in Berlin, will host subsequent fundraisers.

This post-diagnosis photo of Denny behind the bar at Mogan’s Oyster House is one of Kateryna’s favorites.

Now nonverbal due to the progression of his disease, Denny graciously gave us an exclusive interview via email in mid-August to share his thoughts on several topics:

JW: How are you doing currently, Denny? Are you in a lot of pain? Is your medicine helping you?
DM: My disease is progressing very rapidly. Not so much discomfort. Believe it or not, there is not a whole lot they can do for a diagnosis of ALS — some medications can extend life by a few months.

How has your faith in God helped you cope with your illness?
I am a man of faith. I believe God has a plan for all of us; we may not be privy to it, but he does have a plan.

How did it feel to learn Mogan’s Oyster House won five Best Of 2020 awards in Coastal Style, including Best New Restaurant and Best Chef?
I’m beyond-words-excited for the staff, managers and our chef, David Wells. He has deserved this for a long time. It’s a great tribute for the staff, without whom, none of this would possible.

What do you want our community to know about ALS?
There is no cure for ALS; the average life expectancy is 2 to 5 years. We have certain drugs, proven to slow progression, that are in phase-3 trials, but we do not have access to them at this time. ALS is under-researched, and it can take up to a year to get a diagnosis. We are no closer
to finding a cure than we were 70 years ago.

What message about yourself would you like to share with our community?
Just the same as you: I try to find a little joy in each day. Most often, I find that in my two sons.

What message would you like to tell your Mogan’s Oyster House family?
Your hard work, dedication, service to the guest is chiefly responsible for the position we find ourselves in today.

What would you like for Kateryna, Michael and Jack to hold on to in the future?
To Katya: Your devotion to me through my illness leaves me in awe. To my boys: Hold fast to your integrity — everything else will fall into place.

What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be someone who was a hard worker, did the right thing by people, someone with integrity and someone who put family first. 

The Mogans are quite fond of another Irish blessing, one that has been passed along in their family for generations:

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

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