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Her Life
June 4, 2020
Sherry Wagner was born in Tiiskilwa, IL in 1966, the oldest of two girls. She and sister Peggy grew up on a farm, surrounded by a large extended family. Her parents, Pat and Al Wagner, supported her early and unyielding interest in the arts, as she participated in music, dance, debate, and every creative outlet she could find throughout her school years. Upon graduation, Sherry began her lifelong relationship with academia. She attended Illinois State University for a BA in Music Business, a degree, in true Sherry fashion, she created herself. Next was grad school, starting at Columbia University in Chicago until Illinois State University lured her back to be the first ever student in their brand-new arts MBA program. Always one to create innovative new possibilities outside of the box, she curated her MBA to incorporate arts, business, and entrepreneurship. Her self-directed program included a robust study abroad experience in London, where she worked with theatres in London's West End and developed a great fondness for English tea-time. By now, she understood universities to be a fertile ground , for herself and others, to develop ideas, create opportunities, and pursue dreams. Right out of graduate school, she was hired as the Managing Director of University Theatre in the University of Minnesota's award-winning Theatre Arts and Dance Department.  With this dream job secured, she moved to what would become her beloved Minneapolis. 

With the care and ambition of a master gardener, Sherry grew her career, rooted her friendships, and nurtured her family in the Twin Cities. At the UMN-theatre, Sherry had a profound impact on the department and developed many deep and life-long friendships. She mentored dozens of theatre students in the business of the arts, launched arts administration course work, and championed the rebirth of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat as not only a one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity for undergraduate theatre students, but also as a wildly successful arts, business and community development project.  It was here that she met and fell in love with Brent "Mickey" Henry. Sherry and Mickey married on the Showboat on August 30, 2003, forming the legendary Wagner-Henry team. Together, they renovated houses, hosted dinner parties and backyard patio soirees, coordinated bowling outings and created many social engagements that were loads of fun for all who attended.

Community building was one of Sherry’s greatest joys. At work, she continually built connections everywhere- across departments at the university, across the Twin Cities, and across the nation, all to advance excellence in the arts and cultural sector. She was actively engaged with Twin Cities arts organizations, the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE), United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), and The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2R2), as a board member, trusted advisor, and collaborator. Meanwhile, Sherry and Mickey leapt into parenthood when, in 2007, they welcomed Zhen into their lives. Sherry often said the day Zhen was adopted was the greatest day of her life. The journey to Zhen, and the days thereafter, were full of great adventure, collaboration, and joy. This included welcoming Menga Gao, a bright, engaging college student from China, into their home as part of the family. The Wagner-Henrys started traveling, including stops in Illinois and the West Coast to see family, and overseas with Zhen to explore London and Hong Kong. Always curious to see new places, learn new traditions and make new friends, Sherry’s adventures on-the-road put more miles on her car, points in her frequent flyer account and stamps in her passport.

As family and friendships grew, so did Sherry’s career. In 2009, after eighteen years in the Department of Theatre and Dance, her big ideas took her to the College of Continuing Education as Director of Graduate Studies for the Master of Liberal Studies Program (MLS) at the University of Minnesota. In collaboration with her wonderfully creative staff, Sherry created multiple degree programs for MLS. Most significantly, she helped to create and shepherded the start of the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership. This fulfilled a life-long passion she developed since arriving at the university, and met the leadership needs of an increasingly robust Twin Cities arts community. Her work was being noticed by other universities throughout the country, and in 2012, Sherry accepted a new role as the Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration in the prestigious UW-Madison School of Business MBA. This new opportunity moved the Wagner-Henry clan to Madison, WI, where Mickey found work as a senior rigger at Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) and Zhen continued school and developed his love for math, soccer, and gaming.

Life in Madison was demanding and always busy. Sherry led the Bolz Center, the top arts administration program in the United States, to new heights. She continued to develop innovative enhanced educational experiences that always emphasized applied learning, creative placemaking, and connections between creative majors and business students. Always innovating, she pushed the business school to form deeper partnerships locally and nationally, grounded student experiences in current industry trends, and built relationships to garner more resources for her students and program. Sherry’s most recent goal this year was the creation and launch of a brand-new MA in Arts and Creative Enterprise Leadership. She, Mickey and Zhen strove to balance modern life with simple pleasures. Their welcome mat was always out, and the TreeTop Lounge was the place Sherry often found comfort, solace, and joy.

In her work and life, Sherry was a creative visionary with a generous heart. She helped people discover their strengths, hone their talents, and find the confidence to believe in themselves and their dreams. She listened to everyone’s story with sincere interest, and made you feel like you were the only person in the room. She inspired everyone who met her to engage in community building, strive for excellence, and find their purpose in life. She consistently fostered women's leadership, was a fierce advocate for those around her, and would drop everything to help a student, friend, or family-member bring their ideas to life. Sherry possessed a wicked sense of humor, keen intuition, quick wit, razor-sharp intellect, and a disarming smile. She loved her work in the arts, making connections and having deep conversations, drinks and laughs on a patio, and most of all Mickey and Zhen. 

She will forever live in our hearts. She is, and will always be, profoundly missed.