J.F. Wagner, of Billings, passed away from pneumonia on April 14, 2016. He was 86 years old.
Mr. Wagner was born on Aug. 3, 1929, in Wolf Point, Mont. He was the eldest son and fourth child of Thomas and Margarette Wagner’s ten children and grew up on the family farm north of Nashua, Mont.
On Aug. 9, 1950, Mr. Wagner married Arlys Monson and together they raised six children amid moves to Waterloo, Ia., Columbus, Ohio, and Cincinnati as he rose up the ranks selling life insurance for Mutual of New York. In 1973, instead of accepting a promotion to the company’s New York headquarters, they opted instead to move their family back to their beloved Montana, settling in Billings. Mr. Wagner collected top honors from Mutual of New York during more than 60 years with the company. He continued to work every day with his sons, Jere and Joel, at MONY Group in Billings until his death.
Ranching and farming remained lifelong passions for Mr. Wagner, who loved driving a John Deere 55 combine. He took pride in his carefully tended garden and yard. Most mornings included visits to Public Auction Yards, where he enjoyed lively debates on livestock and commodity-market developments with his friends. In 1974, the Wagner Brothers Ranch’s Golden Treasure bull was named National Western Stock Champion Hereford bull and was sold to John Wayne’s 26 Bar Ranch. The sale allowed Mr. Wagner the opportunity to introduce his wife to one of her favorite movie stars.
His kindness and generosity won him friends from every walk of life. Mr. Wagner strove to help budding entrepreneurs and aspiring artists find success and often brokered connections among his wide network. Mr. Wagner collected bronze sculptures and oil paintings that depicted his beloved Western landscapes and lifestyle. He usually wore Western wear to his office on Saturday mornings.
Above all, Mr. Wagner was committed to his family. He was tireless in amusing his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, concocting elaborate forts, making mud pies in the garden and always winning foot races. His bedtime serenades to them filled the house and brought smiles to everyone.
Mr. Wagner is survived by his wife of 65 years, Arlys; and their children, Wendy (Dennis) Byron, Jeffrey (Stacey) Wagner, John (Laura) Wagner, Jere Wagner and Joel (Julie) Wagner. He is also survived by sister LeMay Bechtold of St. Cloud, Minn., Roger Wagner of Nashua and David Wagner of Towner, N.D. Grandchildren include Ellen (Brian) Byron, Erin (Joshua) Hultgren, Patrick (Kate) Byron, Jeffrey (Jena) Byron, Jed Wagner, Chelsea Wagner, Joshua (Kelsey) Wagner, Jessica Wagner, Brenna Braaten and Asher Braaten. Mr. Wagner is also survived by 10 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his son, James; his parents; sisters Therese Ann Wagner, Mary Margarette Wagner Hanson and Damaris Boerschinger; and brothers Hugh, Philip and Richard Wagner.
A rosary service will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, followed by a funeral mass at noon at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, 215 N. 31st St., in Billings.
The family extends particular thanks to Drs. Fiddler and Malters and the extraordinary nurses and staff on the sixth floor of St. Vincent’s hospital. Memorials may be directed to the Billings Catholic Schools Foundation, formally known as BACET.