LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Edna Wagner is a military spouse and makes her home in Leavenworth, Kansas. Not only does she love the community, but she also loves the children.
And she found the perfect way to honor and serve both.
Wagner loves dreams of the future.
“It’s very rewarding to see our kids… improve their grades, see how their attitudes change, look to the future,” she said.
She loves these dreams just as much as the story of the past.
“I love digging into the history of people who came before me,” Wagner said.
For more than a decade, Wagner has been bridging the gap using the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum in Leavenworth to connect community, culture and educational support.
“The goal is to get the story out there, to share it, and to know how important it is to know it,” she said.
The longtime educator left the Leavenworth School District in 2011 to become the center’s executive director with a mission in mind.
“I can help more kids if I go to the cultural center because I could help kids in all school districts,” Wagner said.
There is a richness carved into the building.
“Most people who walk in assume that the facade you walked in is all we have. They don’t realize this six-room house is back here until we start the tour,” she said.
Every image, artifact, and statue captures a story, and Wagner can take you back in time.
“The house that we sit in, after the search was completed, we discovered that it was once inhabited by an original Buffalo soldier, surname Blye,” she said.
“It was just amazing to process all of the rich history that African Americans have brought here in this area,” Wagner added.
The center tells the stories of triumph and adversity, ensuring that every visitor understands the unwavering strength and determination of African Americans.
And while most museums close for the day, this one comes alive.
It’s a second shift for Wagner. She also runs a K-12 multicultural after-school tutoring program.
“These are kids where things aren’t going well all the time,” Wagner said. “So we try to motivate them even if it’s cloudy outside. We come to bring the sun with you.
The program is a ray of sunshine for countless children.
“I tell all the kids here you gotta have faith, you gotta believe, and you gotta get to work,” Wagner said.
These are words she lives by.
Wagner writes grants, collects donations, and organizes fundraisers to support children.
“All of our volunteers are military, active duty, enlisted, retired, retired teachers, retired principals, and people who just want to help the community,” she said.
She teaches her students the importance of giving back and she is precise in teaching life lessons that uphold values, morals and self-discipline.
“They have to work for it because I tell them not everything is going to be given. You have to earn it,” Wagner said. “There’s always a challenge for them to learn how to earn something and not always expect something in return.”
Together they write history every day.
“There are things there that they are going to teach me because every day is a learning experience. You learn something new every day,” she said. “I know I will be always involved with children in one way or another.”
She proudly serves her community by holding on to a piece of her past, standing on the shoulders of those who came before her.
“I think it comes from the three strong women who raised me: my mother, my grandmother and my aunt. They have always shared in giving back to the community through the church and the need of people in the community,” Wagner said.
It is his strength and his will to continue to make the difference.
“It’s something I was taught to give back to my community that I live in, and you can’t make a difference if you don’t put in the effort,” she said.
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