The family, friends, fields and livestock of this Southern Illinois region pause in their seasonal routines to Celebrate the Life of one who has tended to them all with faithfulness to God, tenderness of care, and strength in character.
Melvin Lawrence Wagner departed life on this earth for the Wonders to be found in the Home of God’s Heart on Tuesday, December 27, 2022 as a result of complications due to pancreatic cancer. As with all things in his 97 year long life, Melvin took the news of his diagnosis with a realistic understanding, accepted what needed to be done and moved forward in confidence that God would never let him alone. Singing hymns and carols, some in German, throughout his hospitalization and, later, hospice care, Melvin constantly reminded others around him that Hope and Love are more than four letter words just to be tossed about – and that the only way to claim them is to live into them.
Born on September 5, 1925, the youngest son and second youngest child born to Michael and Julia (Reuss) Wagner, Melvin loved the farm he grew up on, savored the smell of the earth he tended, and viewed his life as a farmer as a unique partnership with God which required the very best he had to offer every day. He exercised that understanding in his daily journey with family and friends – and expected it of others around him, regardless their vocation or interest.
Melvin attended the Pleasant Hill School, a one-room schoolhouse, in grade school, then attended Marissa High School, where he took great pride in being a Charter Member of the Marissa FFA Chapter. Melvin’s entire life, whether with his family, on the farm he loved or in the many church and civic organizations of which he was a part were expressions of his belief that if we are willing to work with and for one another we can accomplish great things.
Among the greatest things Melvin ever accomplished was convincing the beautiful and talented Virginia (Triefenbach) Wagner to fall in love with him and marry him. United in the Covenant of Marriage on November 22, 1947, Melvin and Virginia formed a tightknit, loving partnership which was rooted in the presence of God, the delight in music, the nurture of family and friends, and the will to sing and dance their way through good times and bad. Into this amazing relationship was born four sons, Larry, Carl, Donald and Bruce, who provided ample labor and challenge to make the multitude of jobs on a farm simpler, if only by sheer number of hands added to assist on the diversified grain and dairy farm which was constantly growing.
Melvin, Larry and Donald formed the formal partnership of Wagner Holstein Dairy Farm in 1976 then, when Donald left the operation in 1980 to pursue a call to ministry, Melvin and Larry continued on through the present day, adding Larry’s son, Kenny, to the operation as he came of age. Yet, though farming was Melvin’s main focus throughout his life, he was very active throughout the community in farming and civic organizations:
Melvin served on the New Athens Elevator Board, the Lenzburg Farmer’s Coop, the St. Clair County Soil and Water Conservation Board, St. Clair County Farm Bureau Board, St. Clair County Farmer Service Board, the New Athens Nursing Home Board (where he also helped Santa Claus out by making many appearances), the Churchmen’s Federation, the Progressive Grange, was a local project coordinator for the Foods Resource Bank Project through Holy Ghost UCC, Darmstadt, and Trinity UCC, Biddleborn, served in many capacities on the Holy Ghost UCC Church Council, served in many capacities on the Holy Ghost Cemetery Board, was a volunteer fireman for Marissa – then went on to form the Marissa Fire Protection District with Willard Matzenbacher and Delbert Stewart – and served as the Fire District Treasurer for a number of years, served in many capacities on the joint Council with Holy Ghost and Trinity UCC, was an organizing force behind the Big Six Larger Parish of churches in the 1970’s, served on a variety of boards and committees of the Illinois South Conference of the United Church of Christ, was a Junior High Sunday School teacher, was a Youth Group Sponsor, sang in the Chancel Choir and, more recently, was a Charter Member of the Marissa FFA Alumni Chapter.
When Virginia passed from this earth into Life Eternal in November of 2002, the world seemed a bit dimmer for Melvin, until he began to share time with a longtime friend from New Athens, Dorothy Vielweber. Melvin and Dorothy were married on July 17, 2004 and Melvin began a new chapter in his life. Dorothy and Melvin traveled across the country on vacation, then took a trip to Germany where they connected with family in Dietzenbach, Germany where the Wagner family originated. Dorothy’s interest in genealogy and family history moved Dad to pursue Centennial Farm status in the State of Illinois, which was just the prelude for accomplishing Sesquicentennial Farm status a decade later.
Though Melvin’s active involvement on the farm slowed in later years, his interest in daily operations and management did not. Melvin kept all of the farm account books by hand well into his 95th year of age, shunning the need of computer programs and fancy logarithms for the rock steady exercise of his mind, his will and his experience, often confounding computer generated billing programs of local companies by catching their errors before they realized they had problems.
This man who held the reins of horses and mules as a young man, who grew up in the midst of the industrial age in the agricultural community, transitioning to engine powered tractors, combines and trucks; whose teenage hands helped to clean and pile up the blown down bricks and mortar of the Holy Ghost Evangelical Church after being hit by a tornado in 1938 so that a new worship home, the current worship home of Holy Ghost UCC could be built, a church building and congregation he dearly cherished; whose heart knew no bounds of loving the earth and whose soul found its deepest joy in the time spent with God wherever he was; whose love of family ran deep and whose savoring of extended family and friends carried him/them through all their years together; and whose extravagant welcome caused many a person to find their way to sit at the Wagner family dinner table, to sit on the front porch and visit, to be a part of churning a container of homemade ice cream, to be a part of regional adventures when the crop seasons allowed or to just sit and talk about what might be possible in the next chapter of life . . . this man heard God’s call in his life and answered as only he could – and we are the blessed recipients of his example.
Melvin was preceded in his Home-going by his parents, Michael and Julia (Reuss); his eight siblings, Harold, Helen, Estella, Mildred, Verna, Delbert, Harvey, Julietta, along with each of their spouses; his beloved wife of nearly 55 years, Virginia (Triefenbach); and by his second love of nearly 18 years, Dorothy (Stroh)(Vielweber).
Melvin is survived by his four sons, Larry & Martha (Sheridan), Carl & Karen (Danford), Donald & Nancy (Norton) and Bruce & Penny (Vandruff)(Galey); by step-children, Judy & Jim Newman, Mary Jo (and the late Dan) Nuernberger, and James & Phyllis Vielweber; also by 13 grandchildren, Jeanette & Jason Hall, John & Stephenie Wagner, Kenneth Wagner, Corey & Emma Wagner, Kandice Wagner, Krista & Jim McCormick, Matthew & Sara Wagner, Raymond & Kara Wagner, Ched & Maria Wagner, Melissa & Corwin Kelly, Michael & Lisa Wagner, William Galey and Christopher Galey; 21 great-grandchildren, Ryan, Emily, Katie, Andrew, Annie, Genavieve, Ruby, Cailin, Ava, Lexy, Wyatt, Norah, Holden, Liza, Kai, Lex, Elijah, Landon, Leo, Adam and Lexi; and a vibrant and wonderful gathering of nieces, nephews, grand and great-grand nieces and nephews, whom Melvin knew and could call by name, regardless the setting.
Memorials can be made out to Holy Ghost United Church of Christ, Marissa FFA Chapter or to Vitas Hospice Care
Visitation will be between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 in the worship home of Holy Ghost United Church of Christ, Darmstadt, Illinois.
Celebration of Life Service begins at 11:00 a.m. with the Rev. Tarrah Vaupel officiating.
A Service of Internment will immediately follow at the Holy Ghost UCC Cemetery
*The family requests that all who attend the visitation and/or service exercise reasonable measures of health and safety so as not to transmit the flu, covid or RSV. Thank you.
The Wagner family offers our deepest expressions of gratitude to Dr. David Chung and Dr. Russell Coulter, both of whom Dad dearly loved and trusted; the Staff and Medical Team of Sparta Community Hospital, who provided excellent care for our Dad in a difficult and anxious time; the Dr’s. Arikati, Whitehurst and Sanjay and their Staffs of St. John HSHS Hospital of Springfield, Illinois, who compassionately walked our Dad and each of us through a very trying time, while providing outstanding medical and spiritual assistance for the journey; the Administration, Nurses, Aides and Staff of Red Bud Regional Rehabilitation and Care Center who lovingly welcomed our Dad into their hearts and cared for him with all their being; the Nurses and Staff of Vitas Hospice Care who made our Dad’s final days comfortable, rich and full, with faithful presence and tenderness; and for Rev. Tarrah Vaupel and the congregations of Holy Ghost UCC and Trinity UCC, whose prayers and visits brought incredible comfort to Dad along the way.
From beginning to Beginning, God’s Story is intricately woven into the fabric of our existence. From Melvin’s family to yours, we give thanks for allowing us the privilege of sharing Dad’s song of faith and service along the way. It is said that to celebrate a life which has touched yours is a gift of Thanksgiving before our God, yet to remember that life in our daily living is to honor God’s Presence in us all. Remember, celebrate and live into your own calling and gifts. In so doing Melvin’s years among us far exceed the 97 we have known him and continue the work of God’s Story into generations yet to come.
As he now journeys through Heaven’s fields, may we continue our course here on earth, to the glory of God.
Heil-Schuessler Funeral Home in Marissa, IL is in charge of arrangements.