From the Beginning

The Wagener family’s ties to Clemson date back to the University’s very beginning

Brothers Earl, Ben and Ken Wagener have ties to Clemson that run long and deep.

The legacy began over 125 years ago when their maternal grandfather Benjamin Franklin Robertson deboarded at a whistle-stop train station and trekked a mile to the campus of the newly opened Clemson Agricultural College, where he was a member of the first graduating class in 1896.

Their uncle Ben Robertson Jr. ’23 wrote for Clemson’s student newspaper and served as editor-in-chief of the yearbook his senior year before his career as a nationally known journalist and World War II correspondent. His Southern memoir Red Hills and Cotton — An Upcountry Memory about growing up in Upstate South Carolina was first published in 1942 and is still in print today.

Their mother, Hattie Boone Wagener, was a longtime administrative support staff member at Clemson in the College of Engineering and Science for about 25 years.

Earl and Ken Wagener followed in their grandfather’s footsteps, earning Clemson degrees and becoming chemists.

The family’s four-generation Clemson legacy continued when Ken’s son, David, earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2003 and Earl’s daughter, Emily, received her bachelor’s degree in food technology and processing in 2012.

“Clemson has played an important part of our family’s story for a long time,” says Ken Wagener, whose wife, Margaret Monroe Wagener M ’70, is also a Clemson alumna.

The Wageners’ Clemson story includes fire, floods, a single mother’s perseverance and a village’s collective helping hand.

Humble Beginning

After graduation, Benjamin Franklin Robertson began working as Clemson’s first state chemist.

From his lab on campus, he analyzed soil samples and tested fertilizer from across the state to ensure the proportions of ingredients in bags of fertilizer matched the labels on the bags. He came up with what the nation’s agricultural chemists called the Robertson method to differentiate the various forms of nitrogen in fertilizer, according to a 1973 article in South Carolina magazine chronicling his 50 years at Clemson. He was also named the state toxicologist, which required him to testify in murder trials whether somebody was poisoned to death, the article said. Twice he received death threats.

His agriculture lab evolved into Clemson’s chemistry department.

“He created a couple of chemistry courses, basic undergraduate courses,” Earl Wagener says. “It was clearly the beginning of the chemistry department.”

While he was an accomplished chemist, not all of Robertson’s experiments were successful.

“As we understand it, he set up an experiment, and it went wrong and caught the building on fire,” Earl says, noting details are scarce. He’s not sure his grandfather ever admitted his connection to the fire that occurred in the 1920s.

Following in Their Grandfather’s Footsteps

Earl and Ken Wagener followed in their grandfather’s footsteps, in both their successful chemistry careers and lab mishaps.

This spring, Ken Wagener received the 2021 American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry for his significant contributions to both industry and academia. Chemical & Engineering News credits Ken, a professor at the University of Florida and director of the Center for Macromolecular Science and Engineering, with pioneering the acyclic diene metathesis polymerization, which launched an entirely new field of synthetic polymer chemistry.

Earl Wagener led one of Clemson University’s most successful startup companies.

They are both members of the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineering and Science, the only set of brothers to do so.

While their grandfather helped advance chemistry at Clemson, he doesn’t get any credit for influencing his grandsons’ career choices.

For Earl, that credit goes to D.W. Daniel High School chemistry teacher Mabel Richardson: “She was the guiding light for me. She was funny. She was brilliant. She just loved chemistry, and I picked up on her love for it. I found that I really enjoyed it.”

Earl earned his Bachelor of Science in 1962 and his Ph.D. in 1967, although there was a moment of doubt during commencement whether he’d actually get his hood from Dean Howard Hunter.

The Flood

Years earlier, Earl Wagener’s lab on the fourth floor of Brackett Hall flooded when a condenser broke. Eventually, the water made it down to Hunter’s office on the first floor.

The following day, when Earl arrived on campus, the other professors from the fourth floor tried to get his attention and warn him to leave before the dean spotted him. It was too late. Hunter saw Earl and said, “I’d like you to come into my office.”

When they got there, all the dean’s photos and awards that had been hanging on the wall of his office were on the floor and floating in two inches of water.

Fast forward to commencement.

“Everybody knew the story,” Earl says. “So, he put the hood over my head and then looked over at the audience and pulled it back. When he did put the hood over me, everybody was clapping and cheering. He and I had an interesting relationship.”

After receiving his Ph.D., Earl spent 25 years developing new products at Dow Chemical and 10 years as vice president of research and development at Stepan, a specialty chemical products maker.

Back Home

In 2001, Earl Wagener returned to Clemson and became CEO of Tetramer Technologies, a company started by a group of University professors. The Pendleton, South Carolina, company researches, develops and manufactures advanced materials and specialty chemicals.

Earl says most of the company’s employees are Clemson graduates and many hold Ph.D.’s, something that he finds especially gratifying.

“When I graduated with a Ph.D. in the 1960s, I struggled to find a job in South Carolina,” he says. He landed a job with Milliken but was laid off when the company downsized just three weeks later. To get his next job, he had to move to Midland, Michigan.

“At Tetramer, we have hired around 20 Ph.D.-level scientists, so we’ve created jobs for Ph.D.’s. in Upstate, South Carolina. That’s a particular point of pride for me,” Earl explained. While there, he co-taught a class designed to help graduate and undergraduate science and engineering students successfully enter industry.

Earl says he tried to talk his youngest brother out of pursuing a chemistry career.

“I ran into a professor named Harvey Hobson in physical chemistry,” he says. “Ken was considering chemistry at the time. I strongly told him to find another career. I told him, ‘Physical chemistry is very hard, and you will not pass it.’ You can tell how smart he was. He ignored me entirely.”

There was a time when Ken, who is six years younger than Earl, actually thought chemistry wasn’t the career for him because he wasn’t an outstanding student. Organic chemistry changed that.

“I found something I liked — and I still like it,” Ken says.

Homeschooled

The middle Wagener brother, Ben, says Ken owes his career in chemistry partly to him.

“When I was taking chemistry at Daniel High School, I set up a lab in the attic of our home, and I had Ken and another person be the students,” Ben says. “I set up experiments I learned from my chemistry class. I gave them a test and posted their grades right outside the door. There’s no doubt Earl had a lot of influence, but I can say that I helped start Ken on his career in chemistry.”

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, Ken Wagener went to work for Dutch company Akzo Nobel’s American Enka Company plant in Asheville, North Carolina. He served as technical director of Membrana, Inc., an internal startup company that created the blood oxygenator used in heart-lung machines.

While he worked for American Enka Company, he taught organic and polymer chemistry as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville and discovered he enjoyed it. He returned to the University of Florida and has been on the faculty since 1986.

His Turn

Ken Wagener had a similar experience to his brother’s with a fourth-floor laboratory and a flood.

One morning, he saw a fire truck in front of the building. “That was somewhat concerning,” he sayds. He took the elevator to the fourth floor. When he got out, he saw firefighters coming out of his lab.

“That was concerning for sure.”

Water from a condenser in his lab had made its way to the first floor, which housed a Northeastern computer system for the state of Florida, “and we were about to put it out of business.”

Lab accidents aside, Ken has accumulated his fair share of awards and accolades. While the recognition is nice, he says, helping students matters to him the most.

“Awards for academics are just a way of doing business,” he says. “The awards help get students jobs and increase the visibility for a group of people, so they’re good to get. It’s fun to get the award, but they fade pretty quickly. The thing that I’m most happy with my work down here is that every person who has gone through our research group has a job. Some have retired, but they all got jobs.”

At chemistry conferences, Earl Wagener says he’s often introduced as Ken’s brother.

“I know where I am in the pecking order,” Earl sayds.

It Takes a Village

Ben Wagener is the only of the three who did not pursue a career in chemistry and did not attend Clemson. Instead, he entered the ministry, thanks mainly to Clemson First Baptist Church pastor Charles Arrington. Arrington was a father figure to Ben after the Wageners moved back to Clemson and the family home on Sloan Street after the death of Fred Wagener, Hattie’s husband and the Wagener boys’ father. Hattie, known as “Boonie,” never remarried. She took a job as an administrative assistant at Clemson, making $2,200 a year.

“We lived in the family home on Sloan Street, so we didn’t have to worry about that, but Mom struggled to raise a family on that amount of money,” Earl Wagener says. “All of us got jobs in the town. The whole concept of it takes a village is so true. Ben, Ken and I all got jobs. I worked in the cotton fields, in various places. We became aware as we grew up that people were taking care of Boonie’s boys.”

The Wagener brothers started the Hattie B. Wagener Endowed Memorial Administrative Award in memory of their mother and to recognize the invaluable contributions administrative assistants make to the College of Science and the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

“Mom always said, ‘This guy has a Ph.D., and he’s the dumbest guy I’ve ever seen in my life. I tell you, if we didn’t know how to run the University, the University would go nowhere,’” Earl continues. “And that’s right. We wanted to raise awareness of how much real work the admins do.”

Hattie Wagener left administrative work to teach, first at the preschool Head Start program and then at T.L. Hanna and Westside high schools in Anderson, South Carolina, teaching secretarial science.

The Value of Education

“I believe the only real education is continuing education,” says Ben Wagener, who attended Furman and eventually earned a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

He says his career choice compliments and doesn’t conflict with that of his brothers.

“Science and religion are very compatible, although it seems to many people that they are at odds with each other. We lose on both sides if we deny one or the other,” he says.

That doesn’t stop the teasing, though.

“They tease me I’m the black sheep of the family because there are so many scientists and chemists,” Ben says. “One day, Earl asked me teasingly, ‘How can you work for someone you can’t see?’ That’s a good question. My comment to that is that God is beyond our grasp but within our reach.”

He says that while the brothers take their work seriously, they like to have fun, too, and the banter between them makes that obvious.

“We enjoy being brothers. We’ve stayed close since the 1950s. Before the pandemic hit, the three of us would get together in Asheville, North Carolina, for a weekend every year, just the three brothers, because we have so much fun together,” Ken Wagener says.

While the brothers’ close relationship hasn’t changed over the years, they realize that’s not true of the Clemson in which they grew up.

“The town and the University were much smaller,” Ken says. “It was a great educational environment and living environment. Everyone knew everyone, and as a result, we had a really good life growing up and getting an education in Clemson. That’s been a part of me forever.”

Ben Wagener sums up Clemson’s effect on his family:

“Clemson, both the University and the town, is a huge, wonderful gift for each one of us.”

 

 

 

Volunteer of the Year

The Alumni Association has selected Jeffrey Busch of Roswell, Georgia, to receive the 2020 Frank Kellers III Volunteer of the Year Award. Busch and his wife, Susan, are the parents of Austin ’15 and Garrett ’16 Busch, and although he is not a Clemson graduate himself, Busch has shown unwavering dedication to Clemson as a leader, volunteer and significant supporter for more than a decade.

Busch is a founding member and former president of ONE Clemson, a group of former Clemson athletes and supporters that raises funds to support student-athlete professional enrichment and the Black Girls Golf program. During his term as president, the organization raised more than $300,000. Busch currently volunteers with the Tiger Ties mentoring program and Clemson Football’s P.A.W. Journey. He is a member of IPTAY and the Atlanta Clemson Club and continues to volunteer with ONE Clemson.

New Board Members

The Alumni Association has announced a new board of directors, as of July 1, 2021, with the additions of Asa Briggs ’02, Shavonne Brown ’05, Benjamin Moody ’16, Kayley Seawright ’14, M ’19 and Jaletta Smith ’05.  Click on the links to read more about these new membres.

Alumni Board of Directors

Gregg Morton ’78 President

Jeff Duckworth ’88 President Elect

Mike Dowling ’93 Immediate Past President

Mark Richardson ’83 Trustee

Ann Hunter ’80, M ’82 Foundation

Bob Riggins IPTAY

Ray Anderson ’74 Board of Visitors

Asa Briggs ’02

Shavonne Brown ‘05

Lori Anne Carr ’90, M ’92

Michael Clark ’90

Deborah Conklin ’92

Katie Cornwell ’07

Richard Doane ’10

Sarah Gustafson ’05

Bill Linton ’83

Benjamin Moody ’16

Melanie Pniewski ’03

Kayley Seawright ’14, M ’19

Brad Smith ’82, ’83, ’85

Greg Smith ’84

Jaletta Smith ‘05

Wil Brasington ’00 Alumni Association Executive Director (ex officio)

Brian O’Rourke ’83, M ’85 Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations (ex officio)

 

300 Games!

Brad Loftis ’95 is set to attend his 300th consecutive Clemson Football game

The end of last season marked my 291st consecutive home, away and neutral-site Clemson Football game. The first game of the streak dates back to Tommy West’s final game versus South Carolina in 1998. The last away game I missed was at Duke in 1996, when one of my college roommates got married in Morganton, N.C.

If everything continues to go as planned, the Louisville game should be my 300th consecutive game. There were three games last year that I had to “pandemically attend” due to the severity of the attendance restrictions at some of the away venues. (“Pandemic attendance” means traveling to the venue and sticking my hand through the gate, after kickoff, while taking a selfie.) This was the roughest part of last season, but it led me to the brightest part of last season — and that was meeting Bryson Carter.

You may be familiar with his story, which was told by Madison Williams ’18 in her short film “136.” Carter is blind and had a consecutive game streak of 136 at the time of the 2017 documentary. I met him briefly at the Wake Forest game outside the gate, and thankfully, we got to spend the whole Virginia Tech game together outside the stadium. I watched the game on the stadium’s scoreboard and gave him updates.

Bryson is a remarkable man, and I already look forward to continuing to reconnect with him at future games. Our consecutive game streaks stand 99 games apart. He’s at 192, and I’m at 291.

Clemson Made Us Friends

When Megan Barnes ’01 was moving to New Orleans from Singapore for her job in the federal government, she didn’t know a soul. After a quick search of the Alumni Association’s website, she found the New Orleans Clemson Club, along with the contact information of the club’s then-president, Miles Thomas ’00.

Thomas chartered the club when he transferred his law practice to New Orleans from South Carolina in 2007. “The first [Clemson] game rolled around, and I didn’t have anybody to watch the games with,” Thomas says.

Barnes wrote Thomas an email from Singapore: “I’m very interested in meeting some fellow Tigers as I don’t know anyone in New Orleans! I look forward to hearing from you and hopefully meeting you and some other Clemson grads soon.” Thomas immediately invited her to the next watch party at the local watering hole Fat Harry’s on St. Charles Avenue.

After a couple of meetings, they became friends. “Miles started eating all of my food whenever I ordered at the bar,” Barnes laughs.

Barnes stayed in New Orleans for four years before she moved to Bogotá, Colombia. But she and Thomas kept in touch. When Thomas found out there was a Gamecock fan in Barnes’ office, he had the Alumni Association send her a box full of Clemson swag.

Eventually, Barnes had the opportunity to move to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and just like in New Orleans, she started attending the Grand Strand Clemson Club and connecting with fellow alumni. One of those connections introduced her to her future husband, Cory Johnson, a lifelong Clemson fan.

“I wanted Miles to like Cory because Miles has been like a brother to me,” Barnes says. She introduced Johnson to Thomas at a Clemson Football game at the top of the Hill, and when the couple got engaged, Barnes asked Thomas to officiate their wedding.

The result was a ceremony filled with laughter. “I threatened to do the Cadence Count in the middle of it,” Thomas laughs.

Now, Thomas is a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, but he’s still heavily involved with the New Orleans Clemson Club, something he considers a success evidenced by his relationship with Barnes: “Everything worked the way that I wanted it to because a person who was coming from the other side of the world, literally, found me by email. And Clemson made us friends.”

 

Ring Story: Preserving Her Memory

“We lost my mom four years ago in July,” Frances Mann Medley ’10 says.

In February 2020, the Mann family — including Frances and her family, her father, Stephen Mann ’78, and her brother, Thomas Mann ’06, M ’07, and his family — donated a 2020 Clemson class ring in the ladies dinner ring style to honor their wife and mother, Eleanor Hightower Mann ’78, who passed away in 2017. The donated ring also includes Eleanor’s sorority, Pi Beta Phi, which recently returned to the University’s Greek life.

Stephen and Eleanor met and fell in love when they were both students at Clemson. He was an agricultural mechanization and business major, and she was an elementary education major. After graduating, the couple got married and “put their roots down” in West Columbia, where they raised Frances and Thomas. Eleanor taught elementary kids for 33 years in the area and eventually saw both of her children graduate from her alma mater.

“We have a picture from my graduation day with all four of us with our rings turned,” Frances says. “Sweet memory.”

When asked about the donation, Stephen says it was something that would “last forever. [Clemson] was something that Eleanor was very involved with as a student and as an alumna. It is just a way to preserve her memory.”

Frances says donating the ring was the first time her whole family had been back to Clemson since her mother’s passing. It was a special trip. “When we come back and visit for years to come, when I take my kids as they get older and hopefully my grandkids,” she says, “they can visit the Alumni Center and find their grandmother’s name.”

 

Summer 2021 Club News

Cleanup Crew

The Golden Isles Clemson Club is responsible for keeping a 1.5-mile stretch of Kings Way, a major gateway into St. Simons Island, Georgia, free from litter. “Our goal is to collect as much litter as possible along both sides of the road,” wrote Skip Harvey ’71, “including paper, bottles, cigarette butts, metal cans, plastic containers and even car parts!” On March 16, 2021, Harvey and fellow club members Sean Huckeba ’08, Blase Grady ’87, Marlisa Grady ’88, Kim Sumner ’89* and Meghan Ozamiz ’09 spent about an hour and a half collecting seven garbage bags of litter.

Culinary Tour

The Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Clemson Club organized a culinary tour of Lebanese culture and cuisine on March 25, 2021, via Zoom. Owners of Lebanese Taverna, Grace Shea and Dany Abi-Najm, took the 27 participants through a chef-inspired tasting menu, including wine and dessert. The menu featured hummus, kibbeh, grape leaves, m’saka, tabouleh, ouzi and baklava. Proceeds supported the club’s local partner restaurants and their scholarship fund.

 

OTHER CLUB HAPPENINGS

Meal Clubs

The Alumni Association created a virtual version of their annual Meal Clubs events, which began in fall 2020 and continued into 2021. The Meal Clubs include the Greenville Luncheon Club, Second Century Club, Clemson in the Lowcountry and Hub City Friends of Clemson. Davis Babb, IPTAY CEO; Graham Neff, deputy athletic director; Delphine Dean, director of the Clemson COVID-19 Testing Lab; Dean Cox, the dean of libraries; and Leslie Hossfeld, dean of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, were just a few of the speakers who participated in the events, which covered topics ranging from pandemic updates to college overviews to Clemson Basketball.

Fall into Fitness

Clemson’s Women’s Alumni Council led “Fall into Fitness” in fall 2020, which encouraged activity and exercise in the name of the University. Proceeds of the program benefited the Women’s Alumni Council Endowed Scholarship, a Presidential Scholarship that provides several Universitywide scholarships each year that support students who might not otherwise be able to attend Clemson.

 

Collaborative Community

Asked how she could help her community, associate professor of scenic design Shannon Robert, came up with a simple idea that soon turned a group of virtual strangers into a small community.

On a normal day, the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts is alive with theatrical productions, music concerts and other cultural opportunities for students, faculty, alumni and community members. Last spring, with the industry shut down for people’s safety, Robert was one of the many people who brainstormed program ideas to help keep the community connected and engaged during this time. Her idea stemmed from studios that offer wine and paint nights.

Initially, Robert’s first Tuesday night paint night on April 21 began with current students but its success led to its expansion to the Brooks Center audience after an invite was sent out. Every Tuesday since, Robert has stationed her laptop in front of her home workspace and taught virtual class members how to create different works of art. Participants range in age from 12 to 80 and from student to faculty to alumni to Tiger fan.

Robert’s goal was to lead group painting sessions that were quick and relatively easy for those of any skill level. Robert said, “It became clear that people want to continue doing this, so I think we can probably learn something along the way.” She began to incorporate mini lessons on things like cubism, scumbling or impressionism. She also wanted to teach participants about the value of painting and to not be afraid — to just do it. Robert recognizes that most people are fearful to show their work or even begin painting because they worry it won’t look good. However, she reminds people that after sitting down to a first piano lesson, no one will walk away playing like Horowitz. She described it as “a process” and told the group to “just enjoy where you are in the process, and don’t be afraid. You have to be fearless when you are creating.”

Eventually, the Tuesday-night painting group turned into a small community of regulars who began to connect with each other, despite the virtual distance. Robert compared it to a quilting group, a fun space where people can sit around to chat and catch up. “I have bonded with so many of these people,” she said. “We talk about recipes, movies, television shows and music. It’s really nice to see everyone having conversations with people they would usually never talk to.”

There were, of course, challenges along the way. Most stores were shut down or, at the very least, limiting hours. Participants had to get creative with the materials they used and where they got them. Some had limited funds to buy the paint, paint brushes, canvases and palettes necessary. Robert also described figuring out the angle to position her camera as a learning curve. She wanted to be sure everyone could see what she was painting in as much detail as she could. Her paint-splattered laptop is proof of her dedication to making these nights as doable and fun as possible.

As the weeks went on, an idea began to emerge. With the number of regulars the meetings were soon beginning to have, Robert thought a collaborative project would be easy to accomplish. She painted a piece and cut it into 16 parts to send to 16 contributors. Each person would have no idea what the painting looked like as a whole, nor how their piece would incorporate into the final. Their task was to replicate their section as accurately as they could, in whatever medium they desired. The contributors ended up using charcoal, oil pastels, acrylic and latex to complete their sections.

The decision to create the piece in black and white was a practical one. Robert knew not everyone might have a color printer, and she knew painting in white and shades of black would be easier to color match for new painters. Painters completed their sections on their own or with the help of friends and family members. Robert said the message behind the piece is harmony. The work pays homage to the different disciplines within the Brooks Center in a way that “lifts them up and is aesthetically pleasing.” It contains a dancer, a light technician, a singer, a musician, and an actor — each performing. Robert wanted students who are studying in the building to look at the mural and “see themselves or see something that they connect with or relate to.”

After two joint paint sessions, the mural pieces were complete and ready to be displayed in their new home: the Brooks Center. Robert described the collaboration as a gift from each one of the contributors. They bought their own materials and gave up their time to produce something meaningful and beautiful that can now be shared with the whole Clemson community.

As difficult as these times are and have been, the shining light through it all has been people’s willingness to look out for each other while remaining connected and positive.

 

 

 

Honorary Alumna: Pamela Maddex Hendrix

Pamela Maddex Hendrix of Kiawah Island, S.C., was posthumously named honorary alumna by the Alumni Association. Hendrix graduated from Winthrop University in 1965 and married Leon “Bill” J. Hendrix ’63, M ’68*  in 1967. Through their marriage, Pam developed a deep love for Clemson and later saw her four children graduate from the University: Jill Ganzenmüller ’92, Joy Yonce ’93*, Holly Cirrito ’95* and Jim Hendrix III ’98.

Together, Pam and Bill have provided financial support for the Hendrix Student Center, the Hendrix Family Endowment for the Office for the Student Body President, the Class of 1963 Bridge to Clemson University Endowment, the President’s Leadership Circle and the Emerging Scholars Program. They were Founding Partners for the James F. Barker and Marcia Barker Scholarship Endowment and distinguished members of the Trustee Oak Society.

In honor of Pam’s passion for travel, her children surprised her and developed the Pamela Maddex Hendrix Dream Jar Travel Endowment, which provides meaningful travel experiences for Clemson students. After her passing, the family became an Academic Cornerstone Partner with a gift of $2.5 million to create the Pamela Maddex Hendrix Dream Jar Education Abroad Endowment.

The honorary alumna designation was presented to Bill and the entire Hendrix family at Bill’s home in Clemson by Wil Brasington ’00, executive director of the Alumni Association, and Gregg Morton ’78, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors.