John E. Wagner, 84, Austin

Published 10:37 am Thursday, August 16, 2012

John Edward Wagner, 84, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family on Aug. 15, 2012, after a two-year-long battle with cancer.

John E. Wagner

John was born on Oct. 11, 1927, to Nicholas and Margaret (Christy) Wagner in Austin, Minn., and was one of 19 children. He grew up learning the construction business along with his brothers, from their father, Nicholas. He served as president of Wagner Construction Company his entire career, remaining active in the company until the time of his illness. John served in the United States Navy in WWII on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock, and also served in the Korean Conflict as a platoon sergeant. He often spoke of receiving and sending letters while in the service from his soon to be wife, Elaine. After being out on scouting patrol, John returned to base and had 47 letters waiting for him from Elaine.

Like most men from his generation who experienced war, he never talked of his time in Korea, except for a couple of stories. While on patrol, John was shot in the hand and lost his little finger. So all of his children, at about the age of 3 or 4, asked him what happened to his finger. He would reply with, “Well, I went for a walk one morning in Korea, and suddenly, a Siberian tiger lunged at me and we wrestled and fought and the tiger bit my finger off.” And then there was the story of “Fred”. When one of his children would not eat their supper, John would tell them about Fred. “Fred was a good guy, but all he wanted to eat was candy, and he never ate the good food that the ship’s cook prepared. So one night, Fred and I were out on deck during a storm, and a big wind came up and caught Fred’s coat and blew him overboard, and that’s the last we ever saw of Fred.”

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John and Elaine were married on Oct. 18, 1952, at St. Francis Catholic Church in Rochester, Minn. They were a loving mother and father to eight children, and all of their children share beautiful memories of growing up in Austin. John was an avid hunter and fisherman and raised all of his children on these pastimes at an early age with many family vacations up north. John was also a devout Catholic, and at one time in his younger years, he attended Loras College Seminary, and gave much thought to becoming a priest in the Catholic faith. He was a member of Queen of Angels Catholic Church, serving on the Parish Council, building committee, and as a Lector. John always said that his greatest accomplishment and salvation in his life (besides marrying Elaine) was joining Alcoholics Anonymous in 1964 and helping others with the same affliction during his 47 years of sobriety. John loved the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. In his later years, you could find him at Wagner’s office most weekends with his cigars, cookies, popcorn and Coca Cola enjoying whatever game was on. He also had and maintained the shiniest wing tip shoes in the city of Austin.

John is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elaine; four sons, Paul (Jane), Matthew (Susan), John and Brendhan (Jeanne); three daughters, Caroline, Kate, and Annabelle (Joe Van Ryn); 23 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; one brother, Jim; and four sisters, Jean, Virginia, Barbara and Gretchen.

John is preceded in death by his parents; son, Nicholas; and numerous brothers and sisters.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, at Queen of Angels Catholic Church with Father Dale Tupper officiating. There will be a 7 p.m. wake service on Saturday at Mayer Funeral Home where friends may call from 5 to 8 p.m. and also one hour before the service at the church on Sunday. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery with military rites by American Legion Post No. 91 and VFW Post No. 1216.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Salvation Army or Partners for World Health.