Don and Jan Wagner

A love story of a lifetime: "I wanted to give something to UTMB that I was confident would grow"

The endowments Don and Jan Wagner created at UTMB tell a story.

A love story of a lifetime.

Among the five endowments bearing the Wagners’ names at UTMB are scholarship awards that honor the couple’s shared roots in health care. One endowment, the Wagner Professorship in Neurodegenerative Disease Research, seeks a cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The same disease that progressively led to Jan Wagner’s decline over the last 15 years of her life.

Although he could not spare his wife or family from the crushing effects of the disease, Don Wagner is nevertheless committed to making a difference.

Love stories like theirs may one day have different endings.

“My wife died just a few short months shy of her 91st birthday and during our 70th year of marriage,” Don Wagner said of his wife’s death on January 31, 2022.

Don and Jan Wagner met in a Pennsylvania high school, when she was a ninth grader, and he was in the 10th grade. The two were inseparable, even performing in school plays together. They married in 1952 after she earned her nursing degree, and he earned a physical therapy degree.

Don Wagner found his true calling in health care administration, which led to a 30-year career in the Air Force.

His service took them around the globe.

The couple raised four children together while Don Wagner served in various administrative posts. When he served in Washington, D.C., to help make ends meet, Jan Wagner resumed the career in nursing she gave up when the couple started their family.

“She was a major partner and contributor in both military and civilian life,” Don Wagner said of his wife. “It could not have been a better marriage.”

Don Wagner retired from the Air Force in 1982 with the rank of brigadier general. He joined MD Anderson Cancer Center in a leadership position overseeing hospital operations and administration. He was also a vice president for the Memorial Hospital System and chief executive officer for Memorial Hospital Southwest and the Memorial Health Center.

While at MD Anderson, Don Wagner was an adjunct in UTMB’s School of Health Professions teaching hospital administration. He and his wife gradually became more involved on the UTMB campus, serving on advisory boards for the Schools of Nursing and Health Professions and on the Development Board.

“I became enthralled with UTMB’s mission,” he said, adding that his involvement is “an ongoing labor of love that has been interesting and valuable.”

When Don Wagner became aware of UTMB’s fundraising efforts, he was inspired to give to the university.

“Jan and I both came from very meager financial backgrounds,” Don Wagner said. “My parents could not afford to send me to school. My education was the result of somebody else making a contribution—I sat under shade trees I did not plant.” Don and Jan Wagner planted their own seeds of giving at UTMB that continue to flourish today.

In addition to the five Wagner endowments, Don Wagner also included the university in his estate planning that will establish an endowed scholarship at the time of his passing benefiting School of Health Professions students.

“I wanted to give something to UTMB that I was confident would grow,” Don Wagner said. “That’s why I favor endowments—even though it may only throw off a little bit at first, it will grow and make an impact.”