Longtime Harborite and educator, Elmer C. Wagner, died in Olympia at his home on Dec. 6, 2017, ending a full and meaningful life spanning 90 years.
Elmer moved to the Harbor in 1955 where he worked, resided, and raised a family for the next 35 years. He worked at Grays Harbor Community College (GHCC) for over three decades, teaching Russian and serving as Director of Counseling. Elmer led two tours to the Soviet Union in 1965 and 1977 in the depth of the Cold War. He retired from GHCC in 1991 and moved to Olympia where he devoted most of his free time to volunteer work at the Olympia World Affairs Council (OWAC) and the World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), an international adoption agency in Renton. However, Elmer also made time to travel extensively throughout his retirement. He spent a lot of time in China and studied Mandarin at the Beijing Language Institute in an intensive six-month program. He also accepted an assignment from Citizens Democracy Corps to serve as advisor to the Palistra School in Odessa Ukraine in 1999.
Elmer also wrote and published a personal memoir, “Dawn to Dusk: a Journey from Time Past to Time Present”, which chronicles the highlights of his active life. Born in Spokane in 1927, Elmer graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1944, winning the coveted “city mile” in the spring of his senior year as the crowning achievement of his athletic career. He then enlisted in the United States Maritime Services where he served for about a year before being inducted in the U.S. Army in 1945. Elmer took advantage of the “GI Bill” and obtained his bachelor degree from Whitman College in 1952. He was hired by GHCC President Edward “Eddie” Smith who coincidentally interviewed him the same day that a long distance ran a sub four-minute mile. Elmer watched the race early that day and Eddie broached the subject during the interview which sparked a long digression into sports in general. Elmer always credited his success in getting the job to the fact that he and President Smith shared a passion for track and field. Elmer enjoyed a lengthy and very positive relationship with GHCC which lasted his entire life.
Elmer was preceded in death by Carol, his beloved wife of 32 years, and his first son, Kurt, both of whom were claimed in their prime by cancer. He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Forrest and Laura Wagner of Olympia, and daughter-in-law, Laurie Wagner of Port Orchard, along with six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren also residing in Olympia and Port Orchard.
A memorial is planned for Sunday Jan. 28, at the Schermer Building at GHCC at 1 p.m. The family asks that friends and well-wishers consider gifts to the American Cancer Society in lieu of cards or flowers, as Elmer’s mother, wife, and son, and other family members, all succumbed to the disease.