ANGLETON — As tears filled his eyes, Ray Wagner thanked God for the time he had with his son, Jonathan “J.R.” Wagner.
“I am just so glad and happy that God gave me 30 years with him,” the distraught father said. “He was well, well loved, and we are going to miss him.”
More than 1,400 Angleton Junior High School students and staff members gathered outside at the campus Friday for a memorial balloon release in honor of the teacher and coach whose body was found Monday in Christmas Bay, not far from where he disappeared while wade fishing the day before.
“The outpouring of love by this community and how much they loved my son is just amazing,” Ray said. “J.R. loved them back.”
The school’s principal, Doreen Martinez, asked students to wear camouflage Friday in memory of Wagner, who loved the outdoors, she said.
“We wanted to give the children one last opportunity to pay their respects and thought the balloon release would be a great way to do that,” she said. “We attached a card as well because we wanted to see where the balloons ended up. As the balloons fly away, hopefully people will pick them up and look up the Facebook page to see what kind of man he was.”
Watching as the hundreds of purple and white balloons filled the sky, several students embraced each other, including seventh-graders Dillan and Brendan McConkey.
“He was our coach last year,” Dillan said. “It’s been really hard this week to focus.”
After hearing of Wagner’s untimely death Monday, the mood of the school was very somber, Martinez said.
“Every single child was in tears, and it was just one of those moments,” she said. “It really touched my heart because it helped me to see the impact one teacher could have on so many children.”
The principal described the late coach as very passionate — especially about sports and his students.
“In fact, he told me once that his goal in life was to be a football coach in Angleton,” she said. “He said, ‘I have no desire to go anywhere else. This is where I want to be for the rest of my days.’”
The former Wildcat had shared similar thoughts with his family, his father said.
“He graduated from Angleton and would tell me, ‘Dad, this is my community and this is my school. I’m going to be in Angleton the rest of my life with these kids, coaching and teaching them,’” Ray said. “He loved this community and these kids. That’s all he ever talked about.”
Following the release, students along with Wagner’s family gathered for a special pep rally in the school’s gym.
“Coach Wagner was a man that loved his wife Katy and unborn son Jaxson very much,” Martinez said. “I remember him showing us the sonogram one day, and he was just so happy and proud. He was just a great man who do anything you asked of him.”
The family is asking for donations to be sent to the Angleton Junior High School athletic department or a GoFundMe account set up in Wagner’s name.