LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Edna Wagner is a military wife, and has made Leavenworth, Kansas, her home. Not only does she love the community, she also loves the children.
And she’s found the perfect way to honor and serve both.
Wagner loves the dreams of the future.
“Very rewarding to see our kids … improving their grades, how their attitudes are changing, looking toward the future,” she said.
She loves those dreams just as much as the history 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 history out there and 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 one mission in mind.
“I can help more kids if I go to the culture center because I could help kids from all the school districts,” Wagner said.
There’s a richness carved into the building.
“Most people who walk in just assume the front that you walked in is all that we have. They don’t realize this six-room house is back here until we start the tour,” she said.
Every picture, artifact and statue captures a story, and Wagner can take you back in time.
“The house we’re sitting, once the research was done, we found out was once lived in by an original Buffalo soldier, last name Blye,” she said.
“It was just amazing to deal with all the rich history that African Americans have contributed here in this area,” Wagner added.
The center tells the stories of triumph and adversity, making sure every visitor understands the unwavering strength and determination of African Americans.
And while most museums close for the day, this one comes to life.
It’s a second shift for Wagner. She also operates a multicultural K-12 after-school tutoring program.
“These are kids where everything is not good all the time,” Wagner said. “So we try to motivate them even though it’s cloudy outside. We come and bring he sunshine in with you.”
The program is a ray of sunshine for countless children.
“I tell all the kids here you have to have faith, you have to believe, and you have to put in the work,” Wagner said.
Those are words she lives by.
Wagner writes grants, collects donations and organizes fundraises to provide for the children.
“All of our volunteers are military, active duty, enlisted, retired, retired teachers, retired principals and people who just want to help in the community,” she said.
She teaches her students the importance of giving back, and she’s precise in teaching life lessons that uphold values, morals and self-discipline.
“They have to work for it because I tell them everything is not going to be given. You have to earn it,” Wagner said. “There’s always a challenge for them to learn to earn something and not always expect something in return.”
Together, they’re making history every day.
“There are things out there that they will be teaching me because every day is a learning experience. You learn something new every day,” she said. “I know I will always be involved with kids in some form or manner.”
She proudly serves her community as she holds onto a piece of her past, standing on the shoulders of those who came before her.
“I think it comes from the three strong women that brought me up: my mother, grandmother and my aunt. They always shared that giving back to the community through the church and the need of people in the community,” Wagner said.
It’s her strength and drive to keep making a difference.
“It’s something that has been taught to me to give back to my community in which I live in, and you can’t make a difference if you don’t make the effort,” she said.