Stanley 'Zip' Wagner

The Head Counselor At City College Influenced Thousands Of Lives During His Three-decade Tenure At The School

August 08, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Stanley "Zip" Wagner, a retired educator who as head counselor at City College influenced thousands of students during his nearly three-decade tenure, died of pulmonary fibrosis July 31 at Brighton Gardens, a Bethesda assisted-living facility, where he had moved this year.

The former longtime Pikesville resident was 95.

Mr. Wagner, the son of parents from Austria, was born on New York's Lower East Side and raised in the Bronx.

"His brother said he got the nickname 'Zip' because he zipped up in height about 6 inches during the summer of 1928," said his son, Ira J. Wagner of Bethesda. "I always heard he got it because he was slow afoot on the base paths when playing baseball. The latter explanation was the more popular one that most people thought was true."

After graduating from Evander Childs High School in 1930, he enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1934.

In 1936, he earned a master's degree in health and physical education from Columbia University.

Mr. Wagner returned to Baltimore two years later and married Evelyn Jacobson, whom he had met on a blind date while a Hopkins student in 1931. She died this year.

He began his career in Baltimore public schools as a hygiene and physical-education teacher at School No. 46 at Broadway and North Avenue.

In 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and at war's end resumed his teaching career. He studied guidance counseling on the G.I. Bill of Rights and was appointed school guidance counselor at Hampstead Hill Junior High School in 1950.

In 1956, Mr. Wagner was offered the counseling position at City College, and later described his years there as "the best years of my educational life."

He was appointed head counselor and retained that position until retiring in 1977.

"Thousands of young men knew him as they passed through City during the years when the school had as many as 4,000 students per year," his son said.

Through his work, Mr. Wagner forged lifelong links with his former students, many of whom became business people, lawyers, politicians or worked in newspapers, radio and TV.

"Oh, Mr. Wagner, he had seen plenty of high school angst," former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, now dean of the Howard University School of Law, said Friday, laughing. "He knew all about the things that were important to a 16-year-old, and he could talk about them. He'd sit there and politely give you some of his stories."

He recalled Mr. Wagner's "delightful sense of humor," which he combined with warmth, charm and a caring demeanor.

"He was a big influence on me and a genuine unsung hero in our community who was a guiding force in thousands of young men's lives," Mr. Schmoke said. "He was a truly remarkable man. We are all better off for Mr. Wagner's work."

Because Mr. Wagner knew that the young Mr. Schmoke was interested in public servants, government officials and lawyers, it was a common topic between the two men.

"He had had plenty of them when they were students at City, and he had marvelous stories to tell, but I'm not giving away any names here," Mr. Schmoke said with a laugh.

Mr. Wagner had counseled Benjamin L. Cardin, a member of the City College Class of 1961 who went on to become a U.S. senator.

"I remember with fondest memories my years at City College and the contribution Mr. Wagner made to the school's success in preparing students for college and life," Senator Cardin said. "Mr. Wagner's life represented the slogan 'City Forever.' "

Mr. Wagner worked diligently in making his students' dreams a reality.

Joseph L. DeVitis, who was a member of the Class of 1963, later became a professor at the University of Louisville.

In a message e-mailed to Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home, Dr. DeVitis recalled his experiences passing the Hopkins campus every day on his way to City.

"I would ask myself, 'Who could go to such a place?' It was far from our small family grocery in Fells Point/Little Italy in both locale and wealth," he wrote.

"Thanks to the encouragement of Mr. Wagner and others at City, I was a Blue Jay three years later (with several scholarships, no less). I became a professor of education and human development, a path that likely brought a smile to the face of one of the truly good men I've known in my life," he wrote.

Mr. Wagner was inducted into the City College Hall of Fame in 1991.

From 1947 to 1988, he was head counselor during the summer months at Camp Takajo in Naples, Maine.

Former WJZ newsman Richard Sher met Mr. Wagner when he attended Camp Takajo for the first time in 1949.

"For decades to come, he was a role model for thousands of Takajo campers," Mr. Sher said Friday. "Zip was kind, caring, compassionate, smart, always willing to listen, always fair, instilling in us the values and principles that made him so special.

"We remained friends for more than 60 years," he said. "Once in a while, a person comes along who is truly irreplaceable. Zip was one of them."

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