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Sun Spots: Marvel Wagner

Marvel Wagner really is, well, a marvel. Already the mother of five children, Wagner's mother was advised by her doctor that since she may not have a safe delivery, to abort Wagner. "My mother went home and decided that the Lord had given her this baby and she would keep it," said Wagner.

So, Marvel Avis Griffen was born to Meta Anna Marie Griemann Griffen and Charles Lewis Griffen on June 22, 1925, the day that Wagner would arrive in this world armed with a determination to live her life to its fullest.

"In 1931, I started first grade in Alberta. I was the only Griffen child to start school in a town school," recalled Wagner. "Miss Schlattman was my teacher."

Following her graduation from Morris Public High School, Wagner was one of 10 girls in the 1944-45 class at Wheaton Normal School. The school educated recent high school graduates to become rural school teachers. "The course took one year of concentrated learning and practice teaching. After that, each member of the class received an Elementary Limited Teaching Certificate which certified them to teach in Minnesota's rural schools," said Wagner.

On Aug. 27,1947, Marvel married Joe Wagner, who she met on a double-date. The couple adopted infants--son Terry and daughter Debbie (Mrs. Arne Kolden). The Wagners have five grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Joe now resides in the Hoffman Care Center.

From 1945-54 Wagner taught rural school children in Stevens County.

Following her teaching career, she worked as a salesperson for the Playhouse Toy Company and attained the rank of 10 out of 150 sales persons in amount of sales. She worked as a secretary for Minnegasco in Morris, Cyrus and Hancock, taught grades five through nine in the Big Stone Hutterite Colony and also in the Hancock Public School system. From 1973-1976 she managed the Morris Credit Bureau.

In 1975 Wagner was pivotal in organizing the Morris Child Care Center and became its director. She trained teachers to be certified as pre-school teachers under Federal Child Development Associate guidelines. "This was at a time of zero population growth," said Wagner. "I wrote grants to get funding. The MACCC, one of few child care centers to accept babies, was located in the Armory dining room. University of Minnesota, Morris faculty and area teachers worked as volunteers. Carol Johnson and Carol Rodriguez, among others, were part of the board. We brought in meals from the U's licensed kitchen and children of all races attended."

With such an impressive list of accomplishments it was a surprise to learn from Wagner that she had originally flunked out of college because she couldn't read. "I was dislexic," she said. So while educating rural school children, Wagner was as much a student as she was a teacher.

"I overcame (a reading disability) by teaching the kids to read," said Wagner. "I eventually learned to read, but was a slow reader." Having no teacher's guides in those days, she completed the lessons as her students did them and corrected their papers as she learned.

In 1972 Wagner received a bachelor of science degree in elementary and early childhood education from the University of Minnesota, Morris. In 1978 she began working as a secretary for director Bill Stewart in the campus' Minority Student Program (MSP). "I consider this my single greatest accomplishment," said Wagner, who retired from the Morris campus after working 11 years, 11 months. Husband Joe worked as a custodian in the campus' P.E. Center from 1972-85.

Wagner remembers applying for the job. The Stewarts had a son in the MACCC and Ida (Mrs. Bill) Stewart suggested that Wagner should apply for the position in MSP. "I couldn't type," Wagner laughed, remembering that she completed the position's required typing test with 33 words per minute and nine errors. "Ida said I could learn to type." Wagner was hired with a six-month training/probationary period. Her typing improved to 63 words per minute and five errors.

"In those days there was no educational coordinator or counselor, so I would counsel (students of color) on educational and financial matters," said Wagner. "Bill was on top of everything, a wonderful boss. I enjoyed the students and some still keep in touch. Three work in Hennepin County law enforcement."

The Wagners enjoyed traveling and each year on their wedding anniversary took a trip accompanied by one of the grandchildren as each reached the age of 10. "The grandkids always had a job on their trip," said Wagner, whether it was to track different license plates or to discover the variety of crops grown in each state, from North Dakota through Iowa, Texas to Canada. They learned as they traveled--at the zoo in Moose Jaw, through Yellowstone National Park and the Badlands, even through western Minnesota. From lightening bugs to landmarks, "I loved seeing the world through children's eyes."

In 1994 "(Marvel and her sister) took 'the big trip'--21 days to Germany. It was a climax to our geneology research. We learned from personal tours of the area by our relatives and stayed in their homes."

Wagner enjoys reading, working on jigsaw puzzles and spending time with Joe and the rest of her family. A geneology enthusiast, Wagner is herself a writer. On the school's 65th anniversary, Wagner wrote, with the help of her classmates, Wheaton Normal Training (Teachers of the Lost Breed). In addition to a variety of short stories, she has also written Katter Grapevine about her maternal grandfather's family and Marvel's Collections, Greimanns 1705-1983 about her paternal ancestors.