Harley Wagler, 81, died Sept. 30, 2022, at Hutchinson Hospital in Kansas following a short bout with cancer. He was born Sept. 9, 1941, in Hutchinson to Raymond and Fannie (Mast) Wagler.
He grew up on a dairy farm in Partridge and showed an early love of animals and living creatures. But perhaps his strongest affections were kindled when he, acting on a tip from a local librarian, discovered the world of Slavic literature in the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. He sometimes remained in the haymow after chores to read yet another chapter of Dostoevsky.
His life combined scholarship with service to others. At age 20 he went to Costa Rica for a term of alternative service under Conservative Mennonite Conference. He later studied at the University of Kansas and the University of Pennsylvania, and he worked in Yugoslavia with Eastern Mennonite Missions. A golden chapter in his life was a stint in Bulgaria on a Fulbright Scholarship.
He directed the Russian Studies Program in Nizhnii Novgorod, Russia, from 1993 until it closed in 2010. Harley then continued teaching at a Russian university until 2021, when he returned to his beloved roots in Partridge. He was a lifelong member of Plainview Mennonite Church, Hutchinson.
He was a caring and gentle man who loved interacting with all those he met. He had a wide range of friends and connected easily with children. His fondness for animals led to many adventures, and he became a walking encyclopedia on animal, bird and insect behavior. He was grounded in a strong faith and lived a simple, honest life. He was a generous man and considered his work rebuilding churches in Russia as one of his greatest accomplishments.
Survivors include his siblings, Paul Wagler (Ellen) of Wichita, Ruth Miller (Roman) of Partridge, Philip Wagler of Hutchinson, Eldon Wagler (Jane) of Lusaka, Zambia, and Duane Wagler of Colorado Springs, Colo.; beloved goddaughter Nastia Oleneva; godson Aleksei James Black; and 13 nephews and nieces.