First Gene Wagner Honorary Scholarship in Labor Economics Awarded
Seven alumni created fund to honor a 'life changing' professor
Gathered shoulder-to-shoulder for a picture, the group of smiling University of Missouri-Kansas City alumni didn’t appear to have all that much in common. Most of them didn’t graduate together. In fact, many of them attended UMKC decades apart. Their backgrounds are as varied as their post-college careers.
But for all their differences, the creators of the Gene Wagner Honorary Scholarship in Labor Economics have one commonality: Professor Emeritus Gene Wagner changed their lives.
So, for the past two years, the seven alumni have worked to honor a professor who, many years ago, took a special interest in them. That work has culminated in a scholarship fund of more than $30,000. During a recent celebration at the student union, the first Gene Wagner Honorary Scholarship in Labor Economics was awarded to junior Kolbe Krzyzanowski. The scholarship is designated for undergraduate students who have family, personal and financial backgrounds supportive of organized labor, and who are pursuing a degree in economics at UMKC.
Krzyzanowski is pursuing a double-major in Economics and English. His essay, which touched on his own experiences in the workplace, as well as his parents’ experiences as self-employed entrepreneurs, landed him the $2,000 scholarship.
The essay topic was fitting with Wagner’s legacy. While Wagner taught a variety of economics courses for more than 40 years, he is best known for his labor economics classes.
Former student Jerry Lonergan, B. A. ’80, said that as a professor, Wagner had a rare gift for infusing challenging material with entertaining delivery.
"You never had an easy class with him, but he always made it interesting, and always added a touch of humor," Lonergan said.
But like all the other former students who built the scholarship fund, Lonergan has even more fond memories of Wagner outside the classroom. Following an economics class one day, Wagner asked Lonergan to come to his office. Once there, Wagner initiated a conversation about Lonergan’s future.
To this day, Lonergan says he’s not completely sure what prompted the conversation. Until that moment, he didn’t even think Wagner knew his name. What Lonergan is sure of, though, is that he is glad the conversation took place -- it forced him to actively plan his future. He is currently an associate director with the civic council of Greater Kansas City.
Few people understand that feeling better than Mary Daly. Daly, B. A. ’85, is currently the associate director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, and has published countless scholarly articles. But when she first set foot in one of Wagner’s classes, she had little more than a GED and a chip on her shoulder.
"I was a little bit insecure. I didn’t know much of anything, and [Wagner] was a person who didn’t seem to score people based on whether they knew things already, but whether they were willing to learn them," Daly said.
When she met Wagner, Daly’s overwhelming work schedule made it difficult for her to succeed academically. Wagner taught her how to structure her time, and how to prepare for classes. When she graduated, Daly was given the Chancellor’s award.
But Wagner’s lessons weren’t all academic. As Daly watched Wagner and his wife, Jane, interact, she came to understand that two people can love one another and still maintain independent senses of self. For the past 22 years, Daly has modeled her relationship with her partner after the Wagners’ example.
"Gene didn’t just help me change my life, he helped me create it," Daly said.
When Wagner took his place behind the podium, he did so with his usual mix of humor and passion.
"What I know is, I don’t have to have a funeral," Wagner said, looking over a laughing and adoring crowd.
Wagner then thanked the crowd, as well as the UMKC administrators who supported him over the years.
From the back of the room, Joe Moreland, B.A. ’74, looked on.Moreland, along with Lonergan, Daly, Gary Sage, B. A. ’74, M. P. A. ’83, Paul Schmidtlein, B. A. ’72, M. A. ’77, J. D. ’86, Pat Hayes, M. A. ’96, and Russ Dameron B. A. ‘81, J. D. ’84, made up the group of alumni who started the fund.
Moreland met Wagner after having aimlessly taken night classes while he worked for the railroad. Unsurprisingly, Wagner made an impact.
Moreland eventually became a lawyer. He worked for 35 years, representing organized labor.
"I’m just here honoring an old debt. I owe a lifelong debt to Gene Wagner," Moreland said. “And that’s a fact.”