There’s much more to Lana Wagner’s story than 43 years of service to Howard Payne University. There’s a story that it’s never too late to pursue education.
Wagner retired as HPU’s registrar on Jan. 31. She and Rubert, her husband of 48 years who already had retired, plan to spend more time with their eight grandchildren who live in Weatherford and College Station.
Wagner began at Howard Payne in 1972 collecting student loans in the Financial Aid Office. She has spent the last 17½ years as the university’s registrar, which means she’s ultimately responsible for the integrity of HPU’s academic records, the accuracy of grades recorded on students’ transcripts and the checking for satisfactory progress on students’ degree plans.
In other words, you don’t graduate from Howard Payne unless Wagner’s office confirms you have met all the requirements.
It has been a remarkable and unpredictable professional journey for a woman who didn’t earn her bachelor’s degree until she was 46 years old and her master’s until she was 50.
“Where else but Howard Payne could you go and start out as a low peon and end up in an administrative position?” Wagner asked recently, recalling her journey through HPU. “Howard Payne values a person and their intent of earning an education.
“It’s an institution that prepares students for a career. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.”
Through the years, Wagner and her staff in the Registrar’s Office have worked with countless students on degree completion, degree audits, transcript requests and even scheduling classes.
“It’s very fulfilling to see a student who comes in struggling but later walks across the stage with a diploma,” Wagner said.
Perhaps that’s because Wagner can identify with someone who didn’t have a traditional path toward receiving a degree.
When she graduated from Goldthwaite High School in 1968, Wagner’s family couldn’t afford to send her to college. Three months after high school, she married Rubert.
“I did think about college, but economically, I knew there was nothing I could do,” Wagner said. “Back then, girls looked more to get married after high school. Just a few went to college. A lot more boys went to college back then.”
She attended a business college in Brownwood, finishing in four months, and performed secretarial and clerical work at a local feed store.
In 1972, Wagner landed a job helping with loan collections in the Financial Aid Office at Howard Payne. It was a position she held until 1999 – except for taking off a couple of years to have children. Part of her motivation for staying was, as children of an HPU employee, her son and daughter could attend Howard Payne tuition-free.
During the 1970s, Wagner took a couple of classes at Howard Payne. During the 1980s, she took a couple more. Taking college courses was tough while raising two kids, but upon turning 40 in 1990, something snapped inside Wagner.
“There’s an old adage about when you turn 40, you get a new husband. I got an education,” Wagner joked. “No, seriously, being around education, it had become something I wanted to do. I didn’t see myself moving up (professionally) without a college education.”
Wagner began taking one day class and one night class each semester while continuing to work in Financial Aid. It took six years, but in December 1996, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Still, there weren’t opportunities for advancement at HPU without a master’s degree. So Wagner began taking night classes at Tarleton State. She car-pooled with others from Brownwood and HPU who were making the two-nights-a-week, 120-mile round trip to and from Stephenville. It took three years of leaving right after work at 5 p.m. and not getting home until about 10 at night.
“It meant more coming later in life,” said Wagner, who was 50 she earned her master’s in Business Administration from Tarleton in 2000. “I think it takes older students a little longer to take in all the information, but I think mature students are better students. It was a definite sense of accomplishment.”
Coincidentally, about the time Lana earned her master’s, the Registrar’s position at HPU came open and she got the job.
Now it’s time to retire.
“It’s going to be a major change, but you just know when the time comes to retire,” Wagner said. “I’ve been blessed to have an excellent staff. I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with.”
The Registrar’s Office staff includes Bobbie Price, Martha Fothergill and Kelly Franke. Wagner’s replacement as Registrar is former San Saba superintendent Leigh Ann Glaze.
“I’ve seen the up years and the down years with Howard Payne as far as enrollment and lean times,” Wagner said. “But the Lord has always been here. It’s a special place. We really are like family. There are a lot of people here that you spend a lot of time with, and everybody cares for everybody else.”