Wagner Collins


Wagner Collins, 99, of Bemidji died on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at Neilson Place in Bemidji. His daughter-in-law Margy was by his side. A celebration of Wag’s life will be held this summer. The Cease Family Funeral Home of Bemidji is assisting the family. Wag was born in 1924 to Dorothy (Wagner) and Virgil Collins in Freeport, Ill. His grandfather John Wagner filled the role of father figure. Wag spent much of his childhood working with his mother in the family confectionary, where he perfected the art of making “big ice cream treats.” Wag played basketball and acted in many plays during high school. In 1942, Wag enrolled in the University of Illinois Urbana where he began his studies in math and math education. In 1943 he was drafted into the Army and was sent to officer training at West Point. There, he sustained a serious head injury while playing basketball and was medically discharged. After months of recovery, Wag worked as a substitute teacher which ignited a passion for teaching. In 1945, he attended Northwestern University in Chicago where he would eventually receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the teaching of science and math. That same year he married his childhood friend and neighbor, Alice Maybury Vance - they would be married for 69 years until her death in 2015. Wag received a National Science Foundation grant to further his study of math and math pedagogy at Northern Iowa University. After several years teaching in Chicago, he and Alice moved to Rochester, Minn., where he taught and coached basketball. Their son John was born in 1949. In 1951 they moved to Owatonna, Minn., where their daughter Mary was born. Wag held numerous teaching, coaching and curriculum positions in the following years in the Rochester, Edina and Robbinsdale school districts. He went on to teach modern math concepts at Bemidji State University for more than 20 years. Wag coauthored several math textbooks and was a frequent speaker at regional and national meetings and gave numerous talks on modern math throughout Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Wag was a lover of animals and of the outdoors, enjoying cross-country skiing and fishing on Grant Lake where he and Alice made their home. He joined Alice on stage for many community theater productions, including “The Gin Game,” a powerful two-person show the couple performed in several venues. Wag was a consummate gardener and kept numerous gardens filled with exotic and native wildflowers. Content to let Alice’s outgoing personality take center stage, Wag-a subtle humorist-was a quiet observer of his surroundings. He was an attentive grandfather; when you were in his presence you were the center of the world. To his great-grandchildren, he was lovingly known as “Opa.” Wag and Alice were longtime members of the United Methodist Church of Bemidji and found great joy in their community. They gave their time and treasure generously to help those who were less fortunate. Wag wrote that the tenets of a life worth living included a strong spiritual life, a lifelong commitment to learning, living healthily, being joyful, and above all, being kind to others. Wag followed politics closely right up to his death and was relentlessly dedicated to supporting organizations and politicians who furthered progressive ideals. Wag’s family is grateful to the staff of Windsong, Neilson Place and the Bemidji hospital who provided Wag with care. He spoke fervently of their kindness and grace as professionals and regularly described them as wonderful. The Wag Collins Scholarship Fund supports students studying math education. Contributions in Wag’s memory can be made through the Bemidji State University Alumni & Foundation, Attn: Wag Collins Scholarship, 1500 Birchmont Dr. NE #17, Bemidji, MN 56601. Consider taking action in Wag’s honor: adopt a cat or dog from a shelter; donate to a food shelf or shelter for those experiencing homelessness; find something simple and lovely, and take a moment to hold it in awe. Wag was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Alice Collins and his son John Collins, both of Bemidji. He is survived by his daughter and her spouse Mary (Phil) Swenson; his daughter-in-law Margaret Collins; his niece Cindy (Pete) Bulens; his grandchildren/grandnieces and their spouses, Judah (Adrienne) Collins, Whitney (Mike) Clavin, Kimberly (Brian) Clavin, Joshua Collins, Kirstin Rogowski, Anna (Joe) Collins-Walker and Carmen Swenson; and his eight great-grandchildren and great-grandnephews.

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