Bill Wagner loved history. He majored in it, read it and continued to study it and write about it for the better part of his life. Now, he too is history. Bill died on October 13, 2018, preceded in death by his mother, Ellen, and survived by his father, Robert, his younger brother, David, David’s wife, Lisa, their daughter, Sydney, and his stepson, Ian.
William James Wagner was born at the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, MD on October 25, 1962.Though he spent only the first thirteen months of his life in Takoma Park, in an apartment on Maple Avenue, he always considered it one of his spiritual homes. In December, 1963, he moved with his family to Highland, MD and lived in the same house on Green Dell Lane until his death. The area had not developed much at the time, was surrounded by farms and woods and was relatively distant from amusements. As such, he and his brother and the local neighbor kids largely created their own entertainment. Games of “kick the can” and “red light” alternated with scrub versions of baseball, football and other sports and with exploring, building dams and forts and camping at a creek in the forest behind their house. His mother encouraged a love of reading and of music, while his father introduced him to Henry Thoreau’s “Walden” and taught him to handle household and car repairs. Both parents preached kindness, concern, and tolerance, as well. For that he was eternally grateful. There was always a family garden, and two-week summer trips from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, the most memorable being camping rough on Ocracoke Island on the edge of a hurricane in 1970, and, in 1975, there was a whirlwind tour of colonial New England.
Bill held various part-time jobs from the mid-70s on, some of which he would, tongue in cheek, give an embroidered narrative in describing. A two-Saturday stint, for example, at the Applied Physics Lab picnic, working at the game and food booths and assisting with the “Tubs-O-Fun” ride, he often referred to as his time as a “carney”. A summer working for Heyser’s Orchard, which took him to three different picking locations, he called his time as a “migrant farm worker”. Surprisingly, or perhaps, politely, no one ever challenged such assertions. More substantial jobs included six years working in the circulation department for the Howard County public library, followed by six years delivering dental items for Precision Dental Lab in Wheaton, and by short involvements putting up directional signs for Ryan Homes, and working for a travel agency and a flower shop. All of this was in addition to his more involved career attempts playing bluegrass and acoustic music for fourteen years with several bands, including his primary group, Frontier Justice, and freelancing articles for various magazines and newspapers, notably the Washington Post, the Baltimore Orioles’ game program and Early American Life. He was also a staff music reviewer for Bluegrass Unlimited, Old Time Herald and Acoustic Guitar magazines and helped research and edit two books, one on Ed Delahanty and one on 19th Century baseball. There was also a short foray into cartooning which, while mildly successful, proved to be a dead end.
Bill graduated from Atholton High School in 1980, earned a two-year degree at Howard Community College, followed by a BA and MA in history from the University of Maryland at Baltimore College in 1984 and 1986 respectively. “What are you going to do with a history degree, teach?” became a question he had to fend off for years. He didn’t travel too extensively, though his reading of Thoreau led him to visit the New England area, specifically Concord, MA (his other spiritual home), numerous times, and his love of baseball took him to Cooperstown for research and on a summer (1998) of visiting every ballpark in the Carolina League. Mostly, he cobbled together a simple life as best he could, sitting on the porch, playing his mandolin in the summer, or walking and, of course, studying and reading history.
Bill’s final message to all was: “Thanks to all the many family members and friends and strangers I met along the way. Each one contributed something to my success and joy. Bless you all.”
A Memorial gathering will be held in his honor at Donaldson Funeral Home of Clarksville, P.A., 12540 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, MD on Friday, October 19, 2018 from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. Funeral and interment will be private. Memorial contributions may be made to Gilchrist Hospice, 11311 McCormick Rd Ste 350, Hunt Valley, MD 21031
11311 McCormick Rd Ste 350, Hunt Valley MD 21031