Henry Joseph Wagner, 93, passed away on Thursday, February 20, 2020, at the Brethren Home Community.
Hank was the beloved father of Robin (Michael Birkner), Daniel, Kristin (Susan Monteleone), Allen (Melanie McMurtry) and Rachel Wagner (Cole Rathje) and adored card-playing, song-singing, joke-telling grandfather to Ben, Madeline, and Joanna Birkner, Alexandra Buffie, Amelia Wagner and Ruben Rathje and grand-sons in law, Preston, Tyler and Majed. He recently met and cuddled his new baby great-granddaughter Bruna Louise. He also leaves behind a brother, David, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his wife, Barbara Watson Wagner, sisters Shirley and Margery and brother Joseph.
Hank was born in Pittsburgh, PA to Joseph and Gertrude (Doyle) Wagner on February 8, 1927 and grew up on Miller Street in Wilkins Township. He left Wilkinsburg High School his senior year to join the US Navy. After the war ended he journeyed to Colorado to study engineering and graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He spent his career as an electrical engineer at U.S. Steel at the Homestead and later Duquesne Works in Pittsburgh. He moved to the Cross Keys Brethren Village in New Oxford in 2006.
Hank probably would have preferred to work on the land than in an office, but stayed with engineering to provide a stable and secure home life for his children while growing up. He deeply believed in the importance of becoming an educated person; one of his proudest achievements was helping all of his children get a college education. He considered his children his closest friends and spent his life teaching them how to grow plants, prepare meals, build things, repair things, recycle, reuse and protect the earth.
Gardening was always his passion and his produce was renowned. In August and September he was often seen delivering vegetables to the neighbors. At Cross Keys he was known as the “vegetable guy,” having planted gardens along all three sides of his end-unit cottage with beans, peppers, herbs, beets and his signature tomatoes — carefully cultivated from seed indoors each spring. His gardens were a curtain of greenery, sometimes reaching as high as the gutters —kept abundant by an intricate irrigation system that only an engineer could devise with such precision.
Hank was the epitome of what one would call a life-long learner. He always wanted to figure out how things worked, and could fix anything, earning him the affectionate name “Fix-it Grandpa.”
In his eighties he discovered the internet, and used his computer daily to satisfy his curiosity about everything from gemstones and word origins to song lyrics, health topics, geographic locations and current politics. In particular, the internet was his window into the world of music, an interest developed late in life. His CD collection expanded across his dining room, and soon vied for space with his grow-lights and plant tables. His Pandora playlist ranged from Appalachian, bluegrass, Hawaiian, Australian, folk, country and gospel to his abiding favorite: sad Irish music.
Even with his modest income, Hank was a philanthropist and taught his children about the importance of giving back. He consistently donated to the Brethren’s Good Samaritan Fund, the Disabled Veterans, the Macular Degeneration Society and the Willits Kid’s Club, a nonprofit after school program where daughter Kris works.
Hank ended most conversations with a little catch phrase. He had a small repetitive repertoire of slogans to get you to hang up the phone or go home. A favorite of his is a good summation here, “That’s it, Fort Pitt.”
The family will gather for a memorial service at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please sing a song, take a walk in the woods, or donate to someone in need.
Feiser Funeral Home, Inc., 302 Lincolnway West, New Oxford, is in charge of the arrangements.