Former SDSU President Wagner dies

Emma Dejong

Emma DejongManaging Editor

President Robert Wagner, who served SDSU from 1985 to 1997, died Jan. 17 at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls from lung cancer. He was 78.

“He was just a great, great man,” said Frank Klock, assistant professor for journalism and mass communication. “He was very reachable, and he had an open door policy.”

Last April, as a tribute to Wagner and his wife Mary, the Board of Regents approved the decision to change the name of what was the NFA building to Wagner Hall.

“It was clear that his impact for the university was significant, and we were very pleased that we were able to name Wagner Hall to reflect his financial contributions to the university,” President David Chicoine said.

Wagner came to SDSU in 1970 as a graduate student, later became a sociology professor, and then eventually the president.

Klock was one of Wagner’s students as an undergraduate.

“President Wagner was incredible,” Klock said. “He was one of those men who made me want to be a teacher.”

As president, Wagner had a number of focuses. These included an increased state budget for higher education, increased enrollment and completion of building projects on campus.

An article in the Jan. 15, 1997 issue of The Collegian described Wagner’s leadership style.

“I’ve not concentrated on the wrongness or rightness of my decisions,” Wagner said. “You’re going to end up avoiding decisions if you’re worried about whether they’re right or wrong. I can always change or correct my decisions, and I’ve done that at times.”

Chicoine said he has had some opportunities to sit and talk with Wagner. Chicoine said Wagner passed on his focus to “maintain excellence” at SDSU and to assure the faculty that the administration listens to their opinions.

“We’re privileged to have known him since we’ve come back,” Chicoine said. “The few times we’ve gotten to visit, I’ve appreciated the advice he provided.”

Chicoine went on to describe Wagner.

“He was a great story teller, too,” Chicoine said. “It was clear when he spoke.”

During his presidency, Wagner was often seen walking around campus, and he ate in The Union quite frequently.

“He had quite a presence about him,” Klock said. “He could talk to just about any level and reach a person, especially students.”

To describe Wagner’s contribution to the university, Klock used one word.

“Himself,” he said.

Mary Wagner died in 2004. Robert Wagner is survived by his son, daughter, three brothers, stepmother and four grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 25 in Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls, and at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at Emmanuel Church, Rapid City.