William H. Wagoner

William H. Wagoner (1927-1999)

Wilmington College

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Dr. William H. Wagoner began his career in higher education on July 1, 1968, when he was named the fourth president of Wilmington College. After one year, the college became part of the University of North Carolina system, and Wagoner was elevated to the position of chancellor.

During Dr. Wagoner’s 22 years of leadership, the small community college grew into a graduate degree-granting institution and became a vital link in the UNC system of higher education. The student body grew from 1,240 in the fall of 1968 to 6,003 in the fall of 1989. The faculty of 93 in 1968 expanded to 397 by the fall of 1989.

The basic organization structure of the university was established under Dr. Wagoner's leadership, with the formation of the Cameron School of Business, the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing and the Graduate School. UNCW’s pre-eminence in marine science was begun as a vision of Chancellor Wagoner and his trustees to capitalize on the university’s proximity to estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean to build its specialty area of expertise. The cooperative Ph.D. degree program in marine science with NC State University began under his tenure.

The physical footprint of the modified Georgian campus expanded greatly under his leadership, including the addition of such major structures as Trask Coliseum, Randall Library, the University Union and the first residence halls. Kenan House was given to UNCW to become the chancellor’s official residence in 1969, and Dr. Wagoner lived there with his family until 1990. He set the tone for conservation of environmentally sensitive portions of campus when he set aside 10 acres for the Bleuthenthal Wildflower Preserve in 1974.

Other highlights of Dr. Wagoner's administration were the day Wilmington College became part of the university system, welcoming Mother Teresa to campus in 1975 to accept the first Albert Schweitzer International Prize in the Humanities and becoming a graduate degree-granting institution.

A native of Washington, NC, Dr. Wagoner earned a Bachelor of Science degree cum laude from Wake Forest College in 1949 and a Master of Arts from East Carolina University in 1953. He studied as a teaching fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1956-58, then earned his Ph.D. from UNC in educational administration and political science in 1959. He served in the U.S. Navy in 1945-46.

Dr. Wagoner’s retirement in 1990 came after a career in education that spanned more than 40 years, beginning as a high school chemistry, physics and public speaking teacher in Washington. He worked in Elizabeth City public schools administration from 1953-56 and later became superintendent. In 1961 he became superintendent of schools for New Hanover County.

Following Dr. Wagoner’s retirement from UNCW in 1990, the road in the front of campus and the dining facility at the rear of campus were named in his honor.