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Racine Horlick Alumni 1965

Longtime Horlick teacher leaves $500K scholarship fund to school

  by CAITLIN SIEVERS caitlin.sievers@journaltimes.com
RACINE — Kenneth “Ken” Wagner had an impact on generations of Horlick High School students in life, and through a $500,000 endowment to fund scholarships, will continue to do so after his death.

Wagner, who died Sept. 2 at age 93, taught at Horlick for more than 30 years before retiring in the 1980s.

Wagner is remembered by his former supervisor and friend, Jeff Blaga, as a traveler, a lifelong learner and as someone who loved spending time with young people.

“He was the consummate educator,” Blaga said.

Wagner and Blaga met at Horlick in the 1980s when Wagner was the chair of the social studies department and Blaga was the district’s social studies administrator.

Wagner knew all the best historical anecdotes that kept his students enthralled, Blaga said, and was also respected by students and staff for his organizational skills.

“He was able to relate to the young people and had a wonderful sense of humor,” Blaga said.
Kenneth M. Wagner's gravestone at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Union Grove in Dover. Submitted photo
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A popular teacher

Both Blaga and Tom Schroeder, another friend of Wagner’s, said Wagner would often bump into more than one former student on any day when out and about in Racine.

“He talked about his love of teaching many, many times,” Schroeder said. “Even in his last days, he said, ‘I wish I could be teaching again.’ ”

Wagner, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, moved to Racine to teach at Horlick in 1955.

Over the years, he taught American history, world history, sociology and economics. Wagner walked the hallways of Horlick holding a cane that he didn’t need for support, but sometimes used to break up fights, Schroeder said.

The fund

He conceived the idea for a scholarship fund in the early 2000s and officially set things up in 2008.

“I encouraged him to do this because of his love for Horlick,” Blaga said.

However, neither man expected the scholarship fund to reach $500,000.

“He knew it was going to be a nice, substantial gift, but it grew a lot larger than anybody could imagine,” Blaga said.

Schroeder said that while Wagner might not have made the first impression of a generous man, as he was so strict and disciplined, “he was a very giving person.” During his travels around the globe, Wagner would come across new friends who were having rough times and help them out, by replacing their roof, for instance.

The Kenneth M. Wagner Academic Achievement Award Fund was initially set up to supply one $1,000 scholarship to one student per year. Because the principal amount grew so large, the new plan is to supply one $10,000 scholarship in spring 2019 and then two $10,000 scholarships each following year. The fund is managed by the Racine Community Foundation, which will also handle scholarship distribution.

To be eligible for the scholarships, students must be in the top 20 in their class at Horlick and be active in extracurricular activities. It can go to any student pursuing post-secondary education that meets the other stipulations.

Blaga said that Wagner liked all kids, but had a soft spot for students from families who might not have the money to support their child’s post-secondary education.

He wanted to help those students pursue further education, whether it was tech school or college, Blaga said.

Blaga believes it’s unprecedented for someone to leave a $500,000 endowment to a Racine high school.

“It really speaks to the love of the school that he had,” Blaga said.

Wagner’s tombstone at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Union Grove in Dover reads “Always an Educator.”

“I would hope that his memory lives on as he not only impacted Horlick while he was there,” Blaga said, “but he has now set it up that his impact on the school

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