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Holladay Journal

Retirement party held for Churchill PE teacher Deb Wagner

Jan 08, 2020 01:42PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Deb Wagner will retire in January after teaching PE at Churchill Jr. High for 42 years. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

It’s the end of an era for Churchill Jr. High’s PE department. Beloved teacher Deb Wagner is retiring in January. A retirement party for Wagner was held on Jan. 3 at 6:30 at the school. Wagner has taught PE and science classes at Churchill for 42 years. 

“Wagner embodies everything I feel like teachers and education should be. She is the prime example not just in the way she teaches, but in the way she confronts life. From the fact that she’s so healthy, to that she’s so driven to make sure students understand — it’s so powerful,” said Trent Hendricks, Churchill’s principal. 

Hendricks said he admires that Wagner is still pushing her students and herself to be the very best. “She’s so positive. She works hard to make sure the kids understand what healthiness is, and understand athletics,” Hendricks said. 

Wagner is retiring in part to practice what she preaches. “I love to cross-country ski, and I can’t wait to do it in the sunshine instead of having to wait until I get home from work. I have horses to ride, and I just like to be outside,” Wagner said. 

Wagner has loved getting to know her kids. “These kids like to play. My challenge is getting everyone to play honestly and fairly. They’re all great kids, they’re all enthusiastic. So we’re always working on being kind and playing fairly. We get that energy and channel it,” Wagner said. 

When Wagner started at Churchill, she lived in Salt Lake City. But 20 years ago she moved to Park City. Since then, she’s commuted. She’s made an impact on generations of students. 

“When I got my class schedule, my mom [Kate Page] looked at it and was so excited. She said, ‘You have Mrs. Wagner! She was my teacher!’” said Churchill student Victoria. 

Page remembered Wagner well. “We called her Wags, and loved to hear her talk about running and the races she was training for. She was a great example of fitness. Victoria has loved her class. I am thrilled that my daughter and I got to have the same teacher, and wish Wags a happy, well-deserved retirement. She is a legend!” Page said. 

“I just found out last week that Victoria is Kate’s daughter, and that I taught her mom. It really dates me! But if this weren’t such a good school, I wouldn’t have stayed. The administration here is so encouraging,” Wagner said. 

Victoria and her friend Cora took a break from playing capture the flag in PE to talk about Wagner. “I really like coming to class. I definitely feel like I’ve learned how to stay healthier from her. No matter what we’re doing, she makes it fun,” Victoria said. 

Cora liked learning more about Wagner when she wrote a story about her for the school newspaper. “I like that she’s taught here for so long, and she’s still having a fun time. I feel awesome when I come to class. She’s so nice. I like using the fitness room, and I’ve learned a lot,” Cora said. 

Wagner made a name for herself by starting active traditions at the school. “She started the Halloween Hustle, which is a 5K in the neighborhood around the school. People walk or run. It really promotes healthiness, and the whole community comes out,” Hendricks said. 

“I’m always trying to communicate to the kids that it’s great to be young and healthy. And I want to continue having a healthy lifestyle. Taking good care of our health is the most important thing we can do. And if you lead by example, that’s the best way to lead,” Wagner said. 

Hendricks hopes Wagner’s story will inspire more people to consider teaching as a career. “I want people to see what 42 years in this industry can look like. [Wagner has] stayed connected to her ‘why’ and that drives her. Working in education gives you a sense of purpose, it keeps you from being selfish,” Hendricks said. 

“It’s cyclical. You care about education more, you care about your students more, and you care about yourself more. I guarantee Wagner’s model of pushing her students and modeling it herself will impact generations to come,” Hendricks said. 

Wagner thought she might just slip out quietly, but now she admits she’s looking forward to the open house on Jan. 3. “Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I’m ready. I’m looking forward to connecting with people,” Wagner said.