Burgin scorekeeper finally gets his diplomas

February 27, 2004|JILL ERWIN

BURGIN - Thursday night started just like any other for Guilford Waggener.

The 78-year-old Burgin man showed up to keep the scorebook for the Burgin boys in their senior night game against Henry County as he has done so many times in the past 20 years. Little did Waggener know he was about to become the guest of honor.

Over a year of work by his son, Howard, led to Waggener being honored at midcourt before Burgin's game. He was presented two diplomas - one from Burgin and one from the University of Louisville - that he had never received.

War-time responsibilities kept him from receiving his high school diploma, and a scheduling snafu left him out of Louisville's graduation ceremonies. But a dedicated son and some help from a state representative turned all that around.


Waggener had a successful playing career at Burgin and was a four-year letterman for the basketball team after starting as an eighth-grader. He was on the 1942 Durham Invitational Team - Jack Coleman Sr. was the most valuable player - and was a member of the all-tournament team.

Waggener also played on the six-man state football championship team at Burgin but never got to finish his high school athletics career because World War II and the Navy came calling for him before his senior year.

"I was going to be 18 the next year," Waggener said. "I went to the draft board and asked if I could finish school. They said, 'No, if you start school, you'll be drafted.' So I worked on a farm until October, when I went into the service."

He was stationed on the USS Walsh APD 111 until he was discharged in 1946. He returned and enrolled at the University of Louisville, which accepted him based on a transcript from Burgin.

He was missing one mandatory four-hour class

When he got to Louisville, he never got a career counselor. He was left on his own to schedule his classes, and he took more than enough to graduate. However, he was missing one mandatory four-hour class.

"They let me get through and after four years, I lacked one class," Waggener said. "Nowadays, they won't let you get through without one. I told my children, when they went off to college, make sure you get a counselor."

He left Louisville in 1950, married his college sweetheart, Nancy, and moved back to Burgin. Waggener joined the school board in 1954 and served as chairman until 1982. Through that, he was able to hand diplomas to each of his four children, but he still didn't have his own.

His only son, Howard Waggener, decided to do something about that. Howard composed a letter to the University of Louisville, asking for an honorary degree to his father. Howard didn't know who to send it to, so he asked Jack Coleman Jr., a state representative and son of the elder Jack Coleman.

Coleman made it happen, and Howard Waggener said he's thrilled.

"There comes a time when you can't do anything for your dad. You can't buy him a gift," Howard Waggener said. "I actually wanted them to give him an honorary degree, but the University of Louisville didn't think an honorary degree was what he deserved.

"I had tears in my eyes (at the presentation). I'm just proud. He worked hard for it, and I thought he deserved it."

So did others. The crowd gave Waggener two standing ovations as he and his wife stood on the court across from where he sits to keep the book.

His granddaughter, Ericka Waggener, is a sophomore for the Burgin girls, and a grandson, Daniel Loane, is a freshman on the boys team.

While addressing the crowd after receiving his diplomas, he said, "I will do anything I can to make Burgin the best school in the state of Kentucky," and he didn't back off of that afterward.

"It's very important to me," Waggener said. "I'm real proud of small schools that are good schools. I know it has some disadvantages to small schools, but I think it has some advantages as well. (Students) are close to home, they get special attention and they participate in things here that they wouldn't get at a big school. There are so many activities, and they learn valuable lessons for life."

The ceremony was a high point in what had been a rough year for Guilford Waggener. He woke up last Easter and found himself paralyzed from the waist down. It was nerve damage in the lower two discs of his back, resulting in 40 days in the hospital and 12 weeks of outpatient therapy at Cardinal Hill.

"I couldn't move a toe on either foot when I went in," Waggener said. "According to the doctors, I'm lucky I don't have to use a walker or a wheelchair or anything. I went from a gurney to wheelchair to a walker to a cane, and now I'm up and on my own."

He walked to center court by himself, but he wasn't alone. All four of his children were present, although Howard Waggener didn't tell them why they had to come to the game. Guilford Waggener's brother also was present, and Guilford said having everyone there made it even more special.

"Family comes first with us," he said. "This is just such a complete surprise."

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