Pictured from left is John Pershing Wagner, Jr. and Ritchie Elementary Principal John Jorden.

Ritchie Elementary School Principal John Jorden announced on Monday that South Wheeling native and current California businessman and philanthropist John Pershing Wagner, Jr. has made a six-figure monetary donation to help support the school’s student success initiatives.

“We are so grateful to John Wagner for his support of Ritchie Elementary,” said Jorden. “Our students will benefit tremendously from this generous gift. I know that the teachers, staff, parents, and students join me in saying thank you.” 

Wagner reached out to Jorden last year to determine how the funds could best be used by the school, resulting in half of the money being allocated to the newly established S.W.A.R.M program and half going to fund individual student needs to aid them in achieving long-term success. S.W.A.R.M. (Successful, Winning Attitude, Accountable, Respectful, Motivated) is a comprehensive school-wide program designed to educate students as early as possible on the importance and benefits of hard work and good behavior as well as the consequences for poor behavior and bad decisions. 

Wagner attributes much of his success in life to his experience at the school, (known then simply as Ritchie School, and serving grades 1-9) and the relationships he formed with his teachers. 

“The foundation of my success, both academically and professionally, can be directly tied to the early relationships I forged with my teachers at Ritchie,” Wagner said. “Those experiences left an indelible mark that I have carried with me throughout my life. In fact, I continued to use Miss Dorothy Beck’s English textbook, and the lessons she impressed upon me, well into adulthood. “I grew up in South Wheeling at 34th and Chapline Streets. My backyard was the railroad tracks, and my front yard was the Dairy Queen and the old Green’s Donuts,” Wagner added. “Being from a disadvantaged family, I looked forward to going to school every day at Ritchie, in part to escape the realities at home, and for the opportunity to learn from a dedicated, student-focused teaching staff.” 

A successful healthcare executive and real estate developer, Wagner held high-level management positions at Humana, Hospital Corporation of America, National Medical Enterprises, and Tenet Healthcare Corporation, where he retired as vice president of medical affairs. He also has extensive real estate holdings in West Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California. Sparked by a love of learning nurtured by his teachers at Ritchie, Wagner, a 1970 graduate of Wheeling High School, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a Master of Arts degree from West Virginia University, and an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University. Wagner’s six-figure plus gift is believed to be one of the largest monetary donations made by an individual to a public school in West Virginia.