New year, new chapter for Wagner

Virginia “Jenny” Wagner has been a warm and welcoming presence at the Pocahontas County Courthouse for more than 34 years. After all those years, Wagner is retiring and passing the reins to the Magistrate Clerk’s office to former County Clerk Deputy Nancy Jordan. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The end of the year is always a time of reflection, celebration and resolutions. For Virginia “Jenny” Wagner, the end of 2018 is the beginning of a new chapter in her life. After working at the Pocahontas County Courthouse in different positions for more than 34 years, she is retiring.

Wagner’s career at the courthouse began simply enough. She was asked to fill in for a secretary for prosecuting attorney Steve Hunter. The position was for roughly six weeks, but it led to a more substantial position in the tax office.

“While I was here, Fred Mullenax was sheriff, and Fred asked me to come to work for him, part-time,” Wagner said. “At that point in time – this really will tell how long it’s been – you typed the land books. That would have been through the assessor’s office. They typed the land books, and then you typed the tax tickets. So, Fred asked me if I would come to work in those days when they were busy because Dotty Kellison was the only tax deputy.”

For several years, Wagner helped type the tax tickets for Mullenax and recalls how different the process was back then.

“Fred would read out of one book – the real estate usually – and Mr. Cochran, he was the sheriff before Fred, Clyde Cochran would come read,” Wagner said. “So they would say, ‘okay, you’ve got John Doe here and he has this many tracts and you type in all this information and then you type his name and address, the ticket number and then you type in the description of his property and assessed value. Then, Mr. Cochran would say that he has John Doe, too, and he has his vehicles, so then you type in all the vehicles and then total them up and that’s how it was done.”

Each tax ticket was done on a typewriter with the information read to the typist in this manner. The tickets were kept in a large file cabinet, much like a library card catalog, and they were pulled out as people came to pay their taxes.

“We had these things – they had little round bases on them and there was nothing but a straight metal [spike] – that’s what we would put the tickets on and then at the end of the day, you stripped those tickets off those things, and you had to add everything up and make sure you came out with the right amount of money.” Wagner said.  You had to balance out every day.”

Wagner also traveled around the county with Mullenax when he was collecting taxes. At that time, the sheriff and an assistant would travel to other towns to make it easier for residents to pay taxes. Wagner said she traveled with Mullenax to Cass, Durbin, Dunmore and Seebert, among other places.

“We went all over,” she said. “People could just come in then and pay. I remember sitting up there in Lefty’s Barbershop, and he’d have the fan going and I’d try to keep the paper from going everywhere. It was a fun time.”

After Mullenax retired, Dotty Kellison was elected sheriff and Wagner continued to work for her until her second child, Justin, was born. With Justin and her first child, Laura, Wagner wanted to take some time off to enjoy her children.

She did some part-time work for Kellison, but it wasn’t until Jerry Dale was elected sheriff that she came back on a more permanent basis. Wagner worked out a deal with Dale to work four days a week so she could have more flexibility with her children’s schedules.

“He said, ‘if you come and work, you can work as many days as you want a week, and you can have off any day that you want,’” Wagner recalled. “Then after I was there for a while, they wanted me to go full-time and I said, ‘if you will consider four days a week full-time,’ so I could use that fifth day to go to kids’ parties, I could take off anytime I wanted to. [Dale] is the one that really made life easy to be able to work and have kids, too. He was a good boss.”

Wagner continued working in the sheriff’s office for Dale and then C.C. Beck until 1996, when she went to work for then prosecuting attorney Walt Weiford. She worked for Weiford until he lost the election in 2008 to Donna Meadows-Price.

Meadows-Price hired her own staff, so Wagner left the courthouse for a total of one month before she returned yet again.

“I went home, and I got to draw a month of unemployment and then this job – magistrate court clerk – came open,” she said. “I found out about it, and I hurried up and sent in my resume to the chief judge, who was Judge [Joseph] Pomponio at the time. I wasn’t thinking any way shape or form that I had a chance of getting it, but I really needed it to at least finish up my twenty-five years.”

Wagner was just four months shy of having 25 years of work when she left the prosecuting attorney’s office and hoped to find a job to finish that time. Shortly after sending in her resume, she got a call from Pomponio’s office.

“I figured it was Valerie, his secretary, and I answered the phone and he said, ‘Jenny, this is Joe Pomponio, would you like to come to work as magistrate clerk?’ and I said, ‘yes, sir,” she recalled. “That was toward the end of January, and I came to work February 2, 2009.”

The position was previously held by Mildred Hockenberry, Betty Baker Waugh and Becky Clendenen Rabel before Wagner was hired.

Now, after nearly 10 years as magistrate court clerk and more than 34 years total at the courthouse, Wagner is ready to turn the page.

“I love being here, and I will miss it,” she said.

“Now, I’m looking forward to going home and sleeping for about two weeks,” she added, jokingly. “Then, just doing a few things around my house – just come home and do the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time that I haven’t had time to do.

“I’ve been a little emotional because I will miss seeing people on a daily basis,” she continued. “Honestly, there are several people in this courthouse that are just like family to me, and there are people that I really like that are my friends, too.”

Retiring during the holidays led Wagner to believe that everyone at the courthouse would be too busy to throw a going away party, but everyone pitched in for a proper farewell.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “I knew this time of year, everybody is so busy. I came in and everybody was lined up in the hall. They said ‘surprise.’ I was so shocked. My family was here, too – [husband] David, Laura and Justin, and my sister and brother. It meant the world to me.”

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