June 10, 2020 at age 77.
Jerry was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and lived there until he went to Case Institute of Technology for college in Cleveland, Ohio. His freshman year, his roommate set him up on a date with a high school student, Kathryn Goodman from Shaker Heights, and they were at each other’s sides ever since. Their adventures took them to many places, first to Madison as Jerry attended the University of Wisconsin for his Ph.D. in Physics, then to Brasil for his postdoctoral fellowship. It was there that the family’s love for soccer began. After Brasil, they spent a brief time in Nashville, Tennessee before settling down in Rochester, NY, where Jerry was a Physics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology for 35 years, with a specialization in nuclear medicine and radiation physics.
Jerry loved spending time with his family, attending countless soccer games for his children and grandchildren over the years. He also loved crossword puzzles and sudoku, cooking for his family, collecting art, antiques, and postcards, and road trips near and far.
Jerry was an incredibly kind and supportive husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, teacher, and mentor, treating everyone he encountered with gentleness and warmth. He will be deeply missed by the many people whose lives he touched.
Jerry is predeceased by his parents Irwin and Jennie Wagner. He is survived by his wife, Kathryn Goodman Wagner, his four children, Keith (Laura), Robert (Laura), Stephen (Stacey), Jennifer (Sam); seven grandchildren, Ryan, Samantha, Max, Sophie, Kaitlyn, Adam, and Jason; and his brother, Burton Wagner (Georgia).
Funeral Services will be lived streamed on Friday, June 12, 2020.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Heart Association [LINK] in his memory.
Below is son, Steve’s eulogy to his father:
Hi everyone, thank you for being with us in this beautiful tranquil setting as well as online through the live stream, on this solemn day, yet on a day we are celebrating the life of our dad, Jerry Wagner. While writing this, 14 pages in, I realized I hadn’t even touched on our dad’s legendary BBQ pizza! You see, there was Dad, the family man (husband, grandfather, brother, uncle) and there was Dr. Wagner. Amazingly, no matter in which walk of life you encountered him, you would end up feeling his compassion, patience, kindness, and respect. And of course a little bit of mischief and a lot of adventure.
Whether sitting in a soccer stadium where fans were chiseling the cement seats to throw at rival fans or just touring through Detroit during the World Cup in 1994, helping his kids steal banners, no experience was too big or small for him. He brought us to 150,000 seat stadiums in foreign countries; he would drive us through the night with coffee and classical music to get to Wisconsin to visit his brother and his family; he would force me to lie on pizza boxes in the back of our station wagon to hide it from the customs agents at the US/Canada border. I felt so important in that moment!
He could befriend anyone. He and my mom would go to art shows for the amazing pop-artist Romero Britto from Brasil. If that wasn’t a tip-off that they would forge a connection…at one such event, Romero did a personal sketch of my dad. No one else got this treatment and this wasn’t because they won an auction. It was the connection that he and my mom together could forge with people. His fluent Portuguese…her sort-of Portuguese.
He had an uncanny way of allowing you to choose your own path, while at the same time share his view when warranted. It was “almost” always reasonable, and he never would talk down to you. As one of my friends shared with me yesterday…he and my mom had an incredible knack for letting kids be kids. And for those wondering, there was only one time any of us ended up in the back of a police car!
As Dr. Wagner, he would only be limited by the amount of support you were asking. He was a nuclear physicist who had taught what seemed to be every x-ray tech in Rochester (when he would go into the hospital for a scan, it was always the same…the person recognizing him and saying that he was their favorite professor and an even better person). He must have known he was brilliant, he just made sure that other people (including his children) didn’t feel the weight of that. During his retirement party about 8 years ago, a colleague broke down in tears over the level of mentorship that he provided. He was never flippant. If you were all-in, he was all-in.
Circling back to family, he was flat-out amazing with his grandkids. He would spend what seemed like hours walking and/or carrying the kids around, looking at pictures on the wall anywhere…home, restaurants, stores. It didn’t matter, he was so chill and the kids ate it up. Any time he could spend with them, he would once again, go all-in. He would babysit, go to endless soccer games, gymnastics meets, and skating competitions. He even went on a Brazil tour…twice!
Over the past years, we know he was going through a lot, but he still always somehow could connect to his family. Any visitors, he would perk up and smile. His grandchildren, forget it, no matter what he knew or didn’t know, he knew whenever he would see any of them, whether in pictures or in person, he knew that they were special. A year ago as his mobility had faded, we would show him videos of our girls doing tik-toks…just kidding, activities. As I was showing him a video of Sophie skating on my phone, his hand popped up like Yoda and reached for the phone. Confused, I put it closer and then into his hand where he held it up for himself. All-in.
When out-of-town family would visit, it was no different. His brother visited during March Madness, and we went to watch Wisconsin play at the restaurant Champps. As everyone was getting up to leave, my dad walked over to him and gave a hug. For someone who by that time couldn’t recognize the situation, he recognized it and was all-in.
And I’ll close with a story of my own, if I can get through it…a few years ago, our dad came to my house to visit, while Stacey and the girls took our mom out. By that time, our mom had everyone trained to
show him art books and do word search books and any other thing to keep him thinking. No matter what was going on in his mind, she wasn’t going to stop fighting. So, while he and I sat on the couch relaxing, I pulled out a Word Search book. Not surprisingly, for the first time in my life, I was actually better than him. He could barely hold the pen, certainly couldn’t find a word or make a legible circle.
Then…bam, 1 perfect circle around a word. Wait, what??? 30 seconds later, bam, 2nd perfect circle around a word. I stared at him incredulously. 30 seconds later, bam a 3rd perfect circle around a word. At that point, I turned to him and said: “What the” with the rest under my breath, of course…to which he gave a little “I still got it” glance and smile, then put his head on my shoulder and took a nap.