Wagner was born Oct. 30, 1932, in Sioux Falls, to H.H. and Helen Wagner. He spent his childhood in Sioux Falls and on the family farm in Bridgewater. Wagner graduated from Washington High School in 1950, where he was senior class president and excelled in debate and extemporaneous speaking. He then went on to obtain his Bachelor of Arts degree from Augustana College in 1954 with a major in Philosophy.
Wagner was married to Mary K. Mumford of Howard on June 23, 1954. The couple moved to Evanston, Ill., where Wagner studied theology at Seabury Western Seminary. Their first child, Christopher, was born in 1956. Wagner received a Masters of Divinity from Seabury in 1957, and returned to Sioux Falls where he was ordained a priest in the Episcopal church, and assumed the roles of vicar at St. Peter’s Church and Chaplain at All Saints School. A second child, Andrea, was born in 1961. During this period, Wagner was entrusted with supervision of the planning and construction of the new Church of the Holy Apostles in Sioux Falls, which was dedicated in 1962. In 1964 Wagner became rector of Trinity Church in Watertown, where he was again responsible for the construction a new church building for that congregation, which was dedicated in 1965. He continued his formal education, receiving a Masters of Sacred Theology from Seabury Western Seminary in 1970.
Wagner relocated to Brookings in 1971, where he earned a Ph.D. in sociology from South Dakota State University in 1972.
Wagner was appointed Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology in 1971, and became a full Professor in 1978.
He taught a number of subjects, including an extremely popular course in Marriage and the Family and was the recipient of University Teacher of the Year on multiple occasions. He was also the author of 64 publications, and chaired numerous academic committees. Beginning in 1980, Wagner joined the administration at SDSU where he served as Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 1984 he became Vice President of Dakota State College in Madison, and in 1985 he was appointed the President of South Dakota State University, a position he held until his retirement in 1997.
During Wagner’s tenure at SDSU, the University experienced substantial growth in enrollment, and the completion of a number of major building and infrastructure projects.
Among Wagner’s initiatives was an enlarged emphasis on the University Endowment as an increasingly important contributor to the sustained expansion of the institution. In recognition of his achievements as an educator and administrator, Wagner was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from Augustana College in 1994, a Doctor of Public Service to SDSU and the State of South Dakota by the South Dakota Board of Regents in 1998, a Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of South Dakota in 2001 and a Doctor of Divinity by Seabury Western Theological Seminary in 2002.
Upon retirement from SDSU, the Wagners moved to their home in the Black Hills above Keystone. Among Wagner’s many interests were trains and railroading, and he was instrumental in founding the South Dakota State Railroad Museum in Hill City. Following the death of his spouse Mary in 2004, Wagner renewed his activities in the church, and served as rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Rapid City from 2005-2006, and Canon and Dean Emeritus of Cavalry Cathedral in Sioux Falls from 2006-2009.
Through his talents as a communicator, his scholarship, his dedication to teaching and learning and his deep religious faith, Robert Wagner touched many lives. He consecrated his life to his students, his parishioners and his family and to reinforcing the values of South Dakota and the Christian faith.
Wagner is survived by a son, Christopher, and his spouse, Johanna, of Geneva, Switzerland; a daughter, Andrea Radke of Irene; three brothers, Peter and his spouse, Connie, of Sibley, Iowa, John and his spouse, Annie, of Sioux Falls, and Tom and his spouse, Tenia, of Omaha, Neb.; his stepmother, Ann Wagner of Sioux Falls; and four grandchildren, Erin, Lee, Lara and Helena.
He was predeceased by his spouse, former state senator Mary K. Wagner, in 2004.
In accordance with his wishes, Wagner will be cremated.
A Memorial Requiem Eucharist will be offered at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls, and at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Rapid City. Bishop John T. Tarrant will officiate at both services, which will be followed by a reception.
In lieu of flowers, a Robert T. and Mary K. Wagner Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established at South Dakota State University in Brookings.
Edstrom & Rooks Funeral Service at Serenity Springs of Rapid City is in charge of arrangements.
Friends may sign his online guest register and offer condolences at www.serenityspringsfuneralchapel.com.