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Dr. Charles E. Wagner is 2006 Faithful Steward

Jul 24, 2006
Dr. Charles E. Wagnerof Louisville, Ky., is the 2006 recipient of the Faithful Steward Award presented by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The award, usually presented to an individual, is given periodically to recognize one who has been an example of generosity and dedication to the mission of Louisville Seminary through the faithfulness of their support and advocacy.

Dr. Wagner became a lifelong friend of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary through his late wife’s benevolent outreach to the Seminary’s international students.

In 1948, Charles Wagner met Peggy Ann Able at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. She was completing her senior year in English and Library Science, and he was a first-year graduate student. They were married at the First Christian Church of Bloomington a year later. Nearing the end of his medical studies in 1952, Charles became an instructor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and they moved to Louisville, Ky.

As a couple they joined Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church, now Central Presbyterian Church, and then became charter members of Calvin Presbyterian Church, located in Louisville’s St. Matthews area, where they settled to raise their three sons. Through her church involvement, Peggy developed an interest in the Louisville Presbyterian Furlough Home, which was—and remains— located on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. As she became acquainted with the missionaries on furlough, she also developed friendships with the international students living on the campus. It was the 1980s, a time when only a few international students were able to attend the seminary each year.

In a letter to the Seminary, Charles wrote that on a typical Sunday “Peggy would pick up the international students, take them to Calvin for worship service, and then take them to a home-cooked lunch before returning them to the campus.” Often she would plan field trips for the students to local parks, museums, or historical sites. “I helped in these activities, mainly by driving the car,” he said.

The Wagners sustained this ministry for several years—every Sunday.

Peggy died very suddenly, in 1988. In her memory, Charles continued the ministry, which had become a part of his own life and outreach. He met with Dr. Louis Weeks, who was Dean of the Seminary at that time, and they agreed that meeting with the students on a monthly basis would be sufficient. So, for more than a decade, amid flourishing international partnerships between Louisville Seminary and sister schools around the world, Charles carried on the tradition. Not feeling adept at preparing home-cooked meals, however, he opted to take the students out for lunch. “Peggy was the most caring and sharing person I have ever known,” he said.

Dr. Wagner taught anatomy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine for 36 years until his “official” retirement as professor emeritus in 1988. But the University still needed him to teach gross anatomy primarily for medical and physical therapy students, a calling he has dearly loved. He continues to teach part time, and at 82 years of age, he plans to “really retire” in August 2006.

In a similar way, he has continued to respond to students’ needs at Louisville Seminary. In addition to personally meeting with students, Charles established the Peggy Able Wagner Scholarship Fund to provide annual aid for international seminarians. With virtually no endowment for international students, his annual gift has supported a student’s tuition, room, board, medical insurance, and expenses, providing an effective endowment fund that the Seminary could count on when working with international students wishing to come to Louisville. In 1999, by using parallel trusts—a lead trust and a remainder trust—he ensured that the annual support would be available in perpetuity.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the influence of a global connection on the campus has diminished significantly, a situation that the Seminary administration is working diligently to reverse. In the interim, Dr. Wagner, ever generous, has allowed his gift to sponsor other students in need, while looking forward with anticipation to the day that he will be lunching with “his” group of international students again.

Today, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is recognizing Dr. Charles E. Wagner with the 2006 Faithful Steward Award for his sustaining ministry of more than 18 years in providing student aid for future leaders and ministers of the global Church.
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