James Knox Wagner, 101, passed away peacefully on Sunday December 1 at his home in Capitola, California. He was preceded in death by his wife Valerie. James was born on January 11, 1918 in Eastern Tennessee, and at the age of 3, he moved with his family to Monroe, Michigan.
At fourteen he dropped out of high school to help support his family. At that time, he worked at a variety of jobs, including the local paper factory and the Civilian Conservation Corp. At the onset of WW II, he enlisted in the army but was never deployed due to an injury. He returned to Monroe and opened a successful gas station. He married Valerie Mata and started a family.
Always wanting an education, the GI bill afforded him the opportunity to attend Carnegie Tech where he studied engineering. Upon graduation he worked for the US Steel Corporation for 17 years. He did a variety of jobs including: plant engineer, General Manager of Clairton works, and business consultant in the US and overseas in Italy and Brazil. While at US Steel, he received his MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.
Due to an economic down turn, he was laid off and moved his family to California where his entrepreneurial skills came into play. In the beginning, he worked at Central Coast Development Corporation, a nonprofit that helped farmers start small businesses. Eventually he started his own successful business, Earth and Sea Products, which produced organic soil products that were distributed across the west coast. He, along with his business associates (his wife Valerie, Bob and Gerry Stombs), owned and operated several successful motels in Santa Cruz, Fresno and Tulare. He was always curious, family oriented, resilient man who was successful due to hard work and determination. He will be missed by all, but his legacy lives on in his family. He was also a longtime member of Twin Lakes Church.
He is survived by his seven children and spouses: James (Veronica), Jeffrey (Mary), Valerie Ziegler, Timothy (Myrna), Todd (Lori-Ann), Lorrie Lowe, Heidi Smith (Lonnie) and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. A service will be held at Santa Cruz Memorial Oakwood Chapel on December 9 at 11 am. Instead of flowers, send donations to ALS Association or the American Cancer Society.