Dr. Stanley P. Wagner established a long-living legacy while serving as the fifth president of East Central University from 1969-88 and onward.
Wagner passed away peacefully May 8 in his home at the age of 96 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The family is planning a private service. He was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Diana Mills Wagner, in 2013.
“We are saddened to hear about the passing of Dr. Stanley Wagner. Not only did Dr. Wagner serve East Central University admirably, he and his wife, Diana, continued to support the university with their generous giving throughout the years. We have always been grateful for how Dr. Wagner had been in frequent contact with friends of ECU and how he always showed his love for the university, even living halfway across the country. Dr. Wagner will surely be missed,” said ECU President Dr. Katricia G. Pierson.
Wagner was part of a renaissance at ECU, which featured the startup of new academic programs, the improvement of others and the opening of Kerr Activities Center. The Kerr Center still today houses athletic coaches’ offices and classrooms, in addition to serving as the home of the basketball and volleyball teams, along with conducting graduation ceremonies.
He was also responsible for navigating the university through tumultuous times of the Vietnam War and national unrest. Unlike many colleges and universities across the country, his leadership played a role in avoiding the scene of protests and counter-protests by way of taking a talking, listening and reasoning approach. A two-day colloquy was held with students and faculty to help maintain a calm, stable atmosphere.
Wagner’s leadership also helped break down some physical barriers for students, especially those with disabilities.
“I believe Dr. Wagner was one of ECU’s most transformative and visionary presidents and had the biggest impact on shaping ECU’s welcoming culture and high aspirations,” said Wagner friend and ECU alumnus August Petersen. “Dr. Wagner led ECU during some trying national times and did so with calm, dignity, fairness and vision. He was constantly looking for ways to make ECU a better place for all of us.”
Among other notable achievements were the construction of the Elvan George Building on the north end of ECU’s Norris Field at Koi Ishto Stadium and the Instrumental Music Building. He also helped secure funding for the Physical and Environmental Science Center.
Even after Wagner’s retirement in 1989, he and his wife, Diana, stayed closely tied to the university, though they were living halfway across the country in Greenville, North Carolina. His generous giving, even as late as 2013 by way of the Stanley P. Wagner and Diana Lectureship in Chorale Music and the Stanley P. Wagner and Diana M. University Chorale Endowment, led to the ECU Chorale making a trip to Washington, D.C. The gift was made in honor of Diana, a music lover who had recently passed away.
The ballroom, located in the basement of the venerable Memorial Student Union Building on campus, is named in honor of Wagner.
“Dr. Wagner was a gentleman and a true intellectual,” said Phyllis Danley, former executive director of the ECU Foundation Inc. “He and Diana lit up a room when they walked in, and their love of the arts left a creative legacy for ECU. Students for decades to come will benefit from their kindness and generosity.”
A couple of his most recent visits back to ECU came in 2009, when he served as a dignitary with the opening of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, and he was parade marshal during the 2017 ECU Homecoming parade.
Wagner played a part in the university’s name change from East Central State College to East Central University.
“Several generations considered him president of East Central University, including myself. He was my president,” said John Hargrave, ECU’s eighth president. “I always remember his love of theatre and music theatre.”
Hargrave also said he would often see Wagner on the Mayhue Courts, playing tennis with other faculty.
“When I think of Dr. Wagner, I think of his love for theatre, his love for football, his love for tennis and his renowned love of dancing,” Hargrave said. “It was only fitting that they named the ballroom for him.”
Arrangements are being made by Tatalovich Funeral Home and Cremation Services Inc. in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.