A Walk Through Campus… Wagner Hall renamed for past president


Former SDSU presidents each have campus buildings named after them.

Wagner Hall, formerly known as the NFA, began its life as the Home Economics – Nursing Building, or HEN house. It was dubbed Wagner Hall in May 2010 to honor two alumni and former faculty members, Mary K. and Robert T. Wagner.

Robert Wagner served as a faculty member, famed among former students for his Marriage 250 class, before becoming the 17th president of SDSU.

“When my father became president in 1985, there was a lot of controversy,” said Chris Wagner, son of Mary and Robert Wagner, living in Geneva, Switzerland. “My father never let [the controversy] bother him.”

According to the April 10, 1985 issue of The Collegian, the controversy centered on Ray Hoops, first choice replacement of President Sherwood Berg, sudden resignation and 7-2 Board of Regents vote to approve hiring Robert Wagner, the second choice candidate during the search and screening less than a year earlier.

Chris also remembered having friends ask if the stories his father told in the marriage class were true and answering that for the most part they were. Though he admitted his father believed “if the stories were worth telling, they were worth embellishing.”

“My father was a competitive person,” said Chris. “He enjoyed games, like Monopoly and cribbage, and most often he won.”

Mary Wagner served on the Brookings Board of Education before being elected to the South Dakota Legislature. She also taught sociology at SDSU.

“[My mother] was a pioneer of the legislature among the first group of women to be elected in 1980,” Chris said. “There she focused a lot on gender roles.”

Chris also described her classes as being gender role oriented, especially the evolution of those roles in society, the workplace and leadership.

Both Wagners were SDSU alumni, with Robert earning his Ph.D. in sociology from SDSU in 1972 and Mary earning a master’s degree in social sciences in 1974 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1978.

“My parents both loved the Jackrabbits,” said Chris. “I think in heaven they beat Nebraska.”

The family moved to Brookings from Watertown with the intent of Robert completing his Ph.D. and eventually teaching theology in a seminary. After completing the program, Robert was offered a job in the sociology department.

“In 1971, my parents decided to move to Brookings,” Chris said. “I was skeptical about leaving the high school I knew, but found the community so engaging and so warm that we never looked back.”

Mary Wagner died in 2004 and Robert died in January 2011.