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Saying Goodbye to Colleen Wagner

by Schelleen Rathkopf

Co-founder of CWB Colleen Wagner
The Pacific Northwest maritime community lost one of its greats with the passing of Center for Wooden Boats Co-Founder Colleen Wagner on January 2, 2020.

Colleen and her husband Dick co-founded the CWB together in the late 1960s and despite his passing in 2017, Colleen carried on their shared vision for hands-on education. In March of 2019, she participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new Wagner Education Center, a stunning 9,200-square-foot center that houses classrooms, a sail loft, event space, a gallery, and a boat shop for maintenance and new construction projects. She was also a welcome presence at CWB’s annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival as well as participating in multiple CWB fundraisers.

Colleen shared her passion for maritime heritage and education in most of her daily conversations and always took great delight in seeing adults and kids experiencing the boats at CWB for themselves.

Kids with their ships

Kids show off their creations at Whidbey Island Race Week.

In addition to co-founding CWB, Colleen also founded and served as Executive Director for the Discovery Modelers Education Center, managed the former Museum of Sea and Ships, and served as events and education manager for Northwest Seaport. If you’re an active boater in the region, you have likely benefited from one of her many educational programs and may not even have known it.

That’s what happened to me. As Producer of Whidbey Island Race Week, I started a Kids Camp program in 2015. Every summer since, the Center for Wooden Boats has supplied the event with boat building kits that included all the necessary materials for kids to build their own toy boat.

Included were things like a wood hull, sail cloth, string, and nails that when combined with markers, stickers, glitter, and glue, created quite a creative line up of new boats! For many years now, this activity has entertained hundreds of kids during the post-race parties at Race Week. It was Colleen Wagner who created this boatbuilding kit program. This is hands-on learning at its very best.

Colleen and Dick Wagner were often recognized for their contributions to the preservation of wooden boats. In 2019, Colleen was honored with the Association of King County Historical Organizations’ Board Legacy award for more than a half-century of leadership on heritage issues and preservation.

Colleen will be remembered at a special “Sail Past” gathering at the Center for Wooden Boats on Saturday, April 11 at 4 pm. Please visit www.cwb.org for more information or donate to the CWB in her memory.

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