Saturday, June 2, 2012

RIP: Deb Wagner, R. Dodge Woodson

It's been a very melancholy week for me after learning of two deaths. One, a friend from college and consequently a longtime acquaintance. The other, a multi-skilled entrepreneur and fellow photographer, a man I met only three years ago through the online photography social network Picture Social.

Deborah Wagner, the college friend (a pre-college photo appears left), made a career of service, beginning by taking her B.A. degree in economics and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to Niger, Africa, for a stint in the Peace Corps immediately out of college. She would later pick up master's and doctorate degrees in agriculture economics at the University of Knoxville (TN) and Virginia Tech, respectfully, then took and applied that academic knowledge and leverage to the Eastern Europe nation of Albania to revamp Albania University's agriculture economics curriculum and to direct the USAID/ Land O' Lakes Dairy Development Project in Albania.

While in Albania, Deb found herself drawn to the country's plight of abandoned babies and became actively involved in the Organization for the Support of Albania's Abandoned Babies (OSAAB), which not only helped babies but provided education and training for new and expectant mothers. She ran through a lot of hoops and government red tape before she was finally able to adopt one of those babies, Lea, who was born in 1996. To fully appreciate all she did, you should check out her online obituary.

Deb came back to the United States around the new millennium a few years after starting to experience medical issues that doctors initially believed to be symptoms of early onset Parkinson's. When the issues began to erode her motor skills, she contacted me in May 2007 and asked if I would take the lead in organizing a reunion of our circle of friends from UW-Eau Claire. I agreed. I had tried doing this once before on my own but couldn't muster enough interest to make it worthwhile. This time, with stronger motivation, we pulled it off. On a sunny Saturday in June 2008, about 25 of us met at her rural home outside Columbus, Wis., and had a wonderful time. This post leads off with a group picture of the reunion gang, taken using the 10-second timer on my Canon 30D on a tripod. Deb is in the all-green outfit on the left. (A side note: Ironically, it was at the Columbus weekly newspaper some 30 years earlier that I had gotten my professional start in newspaper work). While at the reunion, Deb sold several us some beautiful handmade pashmina scarves that were a fundraiser for OSAAB. Those pashminas I purchased are now in the hands of family, to whom I presented them the following December at Christmas. The picture above and right was taken on the front porch of her home the morning after the reunion. Yet another side note: Russ Pollnow, the husband of another college friend who attended the reunion, died in February after a short bout with pancreatic cancer. In the group reunion photo, he's the silver-haired man in plaid shirt in the middle of the back row.

I learned only recently that right before we met for the 2008 reunion, Deb had gone to the Mayo Clinic and obtained a proper diagnosis of what she was struggling with: multiple system atrophy (MSA). She died at her Columbus home on May 26. A memorial service is planned for her on June 16 in Madison, Wis., where she was born and raised.

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It was mere coincidence that I crossed paths three years ago with R. Dodge Woodson at Picture Social. We'd both landed on a community forum discussion thread and contributed comments, either about wildlife photography (his favorite) or Canon photographic equipment. A brief email exchange between us followed before I invited Roger to be featured in my Photographer in the Spotlight feature (now on indefinite hiatus), which I posted monthly in Photo Potpourri. He agreed, and on Dec, 12, 2009, the post on R. Dodge Woodson was published. I became an early recruit and member of his newly formed World Photographers Organization. We sort of drifted apart when he elected to transition the WPO from a free to a paid-membership group. I'm guessing that didn't work out for him; I find no remnants of the organization's main website, although I do find some archives of a blog he wrote for a while in conjunction with WPO.

But in a way, I'm not surprised. If you read through my interview with him (FYI: the links there to WPO and his Lone Wolf Enterprises Ltd. no longer work) or just read through his list of accomplishments, you'll see that he had his hands full. Through his 56 years, he was a law enforcement officer, plumber, home-builder, writer, photographer and publisher. Probably a few other things.

I learned about his death, which occurred on March 18 of this year, via an update to his profile at Linked-In, an online business networking community. In the update signed by his daughter, Afton Sinclair, she said the services of Lone Wolf Enterprises have been folded into a new venture, Wolf Pack Publishing, that she is operating.

In a brief email she sent to me in response to a note of condolence to her, Afton said a lot of information in the Photo Potpourri interview was used at her father's funeral. Knowing that helped take the edge off the sadness.

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