Experience

Loss strikes community: Wagner in crash

Adria Watson, awatson@lmcexperience.com

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Los Medanos College is grieving over the death of a long-time employee and friend. Beloved custodian Gil Wagner died in fatal car accident Saturday, Oct. 1, just one day before his 55th birthday.

According to East Bay Times, Contra Costa County CHP officers were notified at 1:06 a.m. on Saturday and found his vehicle overturned, buried under shrubbery on I-80 Eastbound at Cummings Skyway.

President Bob Kratochvil released a statement to LMC staff members about the news Monday afternoon, referring to Wagner as family in the email.

“ I know that Gil’s passing is a shock to all of us, and I ask that we all be sensitive to and understanding of one another’s sorrow during this difficult time,” wrote Kratochvil.

Whether it was a “good morning” or teasing students and staff members who rooted for teams other than the A’s or Raiders, Wagner’s presence around campus was infectious and lives were greatly impacted after an encounter with him.

“Everyday for the last six years, Gil and I have exchanged morning greetings,” said LMC Vice President Kevin Horan in a response to Kratochvil’s email. “My days will never start the same, but he taught me something I will try and pass on, eternal optimism for that day.”

Custodial Service worker Samuel Rainey said he “was more than just a worker to Gil, I was family.” He said even though Wagner was hard on him when he first started in 2009, he still saw his potential and credited Wagner for teaching him everything about how to be a great custodian.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the face of this earth that can replace him, he was one in a million, “ said Rainey.

Student worker Crysta Beckwith said he was like a dad to her and always made sure to help students who needed it.

“If you didn’t have money for lunch or if you didn’t have something he made sure it was provided for you,” she said. “He helped me keep my job. I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him because he and my boss worked together to make sure that happened.”

English instructor Michael Yeong said every time he saw Wagner they would pound fists, adding Wagner was one of the nicest human beings he has ever known.

“I met him outside of the college a couple of times, we ate at the same restaurant over in Pleasant Hill,” said Yeong. “I invited him to have diner with us –– my wife and my family –– he was a very humble man and he would just say ‘no, that’s OK this is your family, Michael, you just be with your family.’ That’s the kind of person he was.”

Anyone who knew Wagner will tell you how much he loved the Oakland Raiders and Athletics. Long-time friend and coworker Gus Gonzalez said Wagner was from Oakland and always showed hometown spirit.

“He loved to tease you if you rooted for another team,” said Gonzalez. “He knew all the facts about the sports team and always liked to wear Raiders, A’s and Warrior colors.”

Receiving Clerk Bobby Quezon was one of those Wagner would tease –– especially since Quezon is a fan of the teams on the other side of the bridge.

“To him, the 49ers and Giants sucked,” said Quezon. “He would ask you what your favorite team was but then go on and on and on about his teams.”

Quezon and Wagner did get along as sports fans, though, because of their mutual love of the Warriors. Quezon said he and Wagner also played basketball together.

“He would set a good screen and I would just shoot the whole game,” he jokingly added. “We won 90 percent of the time –– I don’t know how, maybe the people we played against were just terrible.”

Wagner’s declarations of love for his family were one of the many things people appreciated about him. Quezon said he’d often make fun of Wagner when he overheard him talking with his young grandson because “he would be like ‘papa loves you’ * kissy noises * ‘papa loves you.”

The friendships Wagner had with colleagues are now held near and dear, and many say he was like a mentor and brother.

Gonzalez knew Wagner for 20 years and said he was a giver –– someone who always took care of friends and family. He made it a point to call or visit people to check on them and always tried to make everyone around him laugh.

“That was the best thing about him,” he said. “He would always pick at your weakest point to see your reaction, but in a good way because he’d do it to get closer to you,” explaining that his friendly and welcoming nature was a gift he was born with and that’s why so many people are so sad at this loss.

Gonzalez has many memories of Wagner, but shared one story about a time when they both worked the night shift. Gonzalez laughed as he explained how he loved to scare him. Gonzalez often snuck up on Wagner while he was vacuuming his station, and every time Wagner would turn around and jump at the sight of his friend “and start cussing at me and calling me all the names in the book.”

He and Wagner spent a lot of time together and would talk about their families and make plans for retirement.

“He was a special in my life,” said Gonzalez. “I learned a lot from Gil and he put love and friendship before money. Some people would rather have a dollar in the bank than share it with friends but that wasn’t Gil.”

Others echo similar themes when remembering Wagner.

“Gil, me and Gus were all good friends,” said Steve Valencia, who worked alongside Wagner in Custodial Services for 15 years.

“We hit it off the first day I started at LMC,” he said. “Being a family man and an Oakland Raiders and A’s fan we automatically bonded and were alike in many ways.”

Throughout the years, Valencia and Wagner grew closer and for Valencia, Wagner was like an older brother.

“We always talked to each other. If it wasn’t about work it was about things going on in our lives,” Valencia said. “If I was having a bad day, after talking to him my day was already getting better.”

He said ‘Raider Gil’ was his nickname during football season, but on the baseball field friends would call him ‘Crazy Legs Wagner.’ Valencia and Wagner went to Raider games, A’s games and concerts together –– and, if they had time, would try to catch a movie during the week after work.
“I love that guy,” he said. “I’m going to miss him but I’ll never forget all the good times we shared.”

Wagner’s funeral will be held Tuesday Oct. 11. The viewing starts at 5 p.m. and is located at the Pittsburg Funeral Chapel and Mass will be at the Church of the Good Shepherd Wednesday, Oct 12.

A gofundme account has been setup to help his family with funeral expenses. As an indication of just how much Wagner was loved, one day after the account was setup, the goal was reached and donations keep coming. If you would like to make a donation to the man Valencia said “had a heart of gold,” visit the website at gofundme.com/2sj48mm4.

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Loss strikes community: Wagner in crash