Emeritus Award | Joan Wagnon
Joan Wagnon finally retired in 2016 but spends most of her time volunteering, serving as Finance Chair for the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice board of directors, and President of the Topeka Rotary Foundation Trustees. She also is project director for the Kansas Legislative Oral History Project, writes grants for the League of Women Voters of Kansas Centennial Committee and volunteers with the YWCA Advocacy Committee. She serves on the Topeka Performing Arts Center board of directors.
From October 2, 2015 to July 25, 2016 Joan Wagnon served as Interim CEO of the YWCA of Northeast Kansas. Joan was no stranger to the world of non-profits. She served as executive director of the Topeka YWCA from 1977 to 1993, and of Kansas Families for KIDS from 1995-1997. She left that position to become Mayor of Topeka from 1997-2001.
Joan’s interest in politics stemmed from the work she did at the YWCA advocating for women, children and families. She was elected to the Kansas Legislature in 1982 and served for 12 years concurrently with her service at the YWCA. During that time she authored many pieces of legislation in the areas of domestic violence, child-care, and education.
She also became interested in tax policy and is a recognized expert in that field. She was appointed Secretary of Revenue for the State of Kansas from 2003-2011 by Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. During this time she served as President of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, Chair of the Multistate Tax Commission and on the board of directors for the Federation of Tax Administrators.
After leaving public service in 2011 she worked for the Federal Tax Authority, a start-up company providing tax calculation and remittance services for online merchants. Her role was representing the company before Congress as they sought to enact the Main Street Fairness Act. During that period she also found time to serve as Chair of the Kansas Democratic Party and Treasurer of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Some of her recent honors include an Executive Leadership Award from the Martin Luther King Living the Dream Committee in 2017, Sales and Marketing Executives 2016 Executive of the Year award, 2016 Woman of Achievement from Go Topeka, the city’s economic development organization, the Brock Medal of Distinction from the Kansas Democratic Party and 2017 Distinguished Alumna of Hendrix College.
Joan received her B.A. in Biology from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, and M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Missouri.
Joan is married to Dr. William O. Wagnon (class of 1962) and has two grown children and 3 grandchildren. She has lived in Topeka since 1968.
Q&A with TK Business
TK: Who has had a tremendous impact on you? How did this person impact your life?
JOAN: There is a long list of people who have impacted my life—my Girl Scout leaders, some of my college professors, the courageous women of the YWCA, particularly Phyllis Todd, Margaret Epps, O’Thene Leonard, Dorothy Hanger, some of my colleagues in the state legislature who served as mentors—people like Ruth Wilkin, Jim Parrish who showed me how to succeed in a political environment. And most all, my husband of 55 years, Bill Wagnon who supported and guided me all the way.
TK: What inspires you?
JOAN: People and organizations with a commitment to this principle—peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.
TK: What drives your commitment to the community?
JOAN: Some of my early influencers were the Methodist church with its commitment to social justice, the Girl Scouts with their commitment to service to others, and the belief (as stated by Miriam Wright Edelman) that “service is the rent we pay for living on this earth.”
TK: What advice do you have for others?
JOAN: Treat everyone with respect; make friends not enemies, especially in politics; be honest and truthful; share the credit.
TK: If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
JOAN: The Weavers, a 1950s and 1960s folk music group with Pete Seeger as the banjo player. I’d cook for them if Seeger would give me a banjo lesson and let me sing with them.
TK: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
JOAN: I dream of a fully-developed downtown for Topeka, where I could go downtown on Saturday night and it would be packed with people enjoying the activities.
I also dream of an empty domestic violence shelter because people have learned not to hit each other.
Or an election where everyone votes.