Harley Trueman Wagner 1931-2014
After a lifetime spent making this world a more beautiful place through his art, design, and spirit, Harley Trueman Wagner passed away on October 1, 2014 taking his outstanding talent & creativity, humor and opinions with him, leaving family and friends behind to marvel over his life and mourn his departure.
Harley's earliest memories were formed during the Great Depression on a farm just south of Traverse City where he naturally developed a love of the land and a lifelong passion for growing plants and flowers. He never grew tired of climbing the rolling hills for a panoramic view of places near and far — Duck and Green Lakes that provided great fishing, and Sleeping Bear Dunes on the horizon 30 miles away.
Drafted in 1951, his first vision of a larger and more complex world was provided courtesy of the U.S. Army. He served with honors in Korea, 212 Military Police Company, in the IX Corps Honor Guard. He experienced life in a tent under harsh weather conditions and other hardships but would forever consider it time that was valuable and well-spent. He shot a considerable stack of 8mm films of his experience which sat on some forlorn shelf until recent years when he became a self-taught video editor and voice-over guy who produced numerous warmly nostalgic digital films of his Army and early life.
When he returned home, he acquired an often-mentioned 1951 Buick and began to amass experiences and knowledge that would form the basis of his professional and personal life for all his remaining years. He drove that Buick directly to Grand Rapids where he gratefully used the GI Bill to attend the Kendall School of Design, where he studied advertising and majored in graphic design.
Upon graduation, he took a position as art director for a Grand Rapids advertising firm. Harley also taught advertising and graphic design at his alma mater, Kendall School of Design, as adjunct professor for twelve years while simultaneously forming his own firm that would evolve over the years to become Harley Wagner Integrated Marketing & Communications. It would endure into the 21st Century.
Harley was a creative, emphatic and inspired designer and marketer who believed in the power of good messages to sell products and ideas. Along the way, he collected a notable list of local and national clients, a wide range of creative and business collaborators who frequently became friends-for-life and a body of work that most often demonstrates remarkable clarity, emotional warmth and flat-out surprises.
A colleague called Harley a “graphic psychologist” for his innate ability to understand how a person internalizes an image and behaves because of it. The work he did stands up to time and distance for its typography, layout and use of illustration and photography, and is still highly prized and utilized by organizations across the country. He strongly believed in using personal experience and intuition as the basis for his creativity. As he would explain, “I’ve taken mental snapshots of human emotions to incorporate into my work. The best creativity comes from drawing from my roots, from nature. It’s an innocent, pure, uncomplicated time when door knobs are looked up to. It provides a different perspective.”
Harley's passion for his work matched his passion for his friends and their far-ranging conversations about politics, society and technology; his passion for Traverse City and power boating on Lake Michigan; his passion for his family -- especially his granddaughters of whom he boasted constantly -- and life in general. Harley was an avid reader who kept learning and evolving right up to the end. He will remain a role model for us all.
Celebrating his life and mourning his loss are Donna Faye Hallett Wagner, his wife of 55 years and his daughters Lauren Lynn Wagner and Margo Anne (James) Goetzka, and granddaughters, Morgan Elizabeth and Grace Renee Goetzka. He will be missed as well by his sisters, Claris Cozart and Karen Grant, and Russ Owen, nephews and nieces Bonnie (Nick) Harris, Jerry Sieffert (deceased), Cathy (Paul) Johnson, Marlow (Karen) Grant, Marshall Grant, Harold (Denise) Grant, Valerie Grant Wagner and Bob Scott, and Marlene Grant. As well as many grand nieces and nephews. They will be joined in their loss by the many friends and colleagues who shared in Harley’s life well lived.
Harley joins his late parents, Doris Helen and Trueman Murphy Wagner, as well as his beloved grandmother, Isabel Schermerhorn.
The world was enriched by Harley’s life and work and insight … and we will miss him.