Charles G. Wagner, MD
Going the extra mile is notable enough. Doing it in a hot-air balloon is, well, above and beyond. But for Milton, DE, family practitioner Charles Wagner, the troposphere is as good a locale as any to raise money for diabetes research and other worthy causes.
Wagner is the organizer of the annual Delmarva Hot Air Balloon & Craft Festival. It features competitive air races, tethered rides (short ascents and descents, controlled by high-tensile ropes anchored to the ground), untethered flights, and a balloon glow in which about 20 grounded balloons are inflated at duskthe light from their burners filling the evening sky with a kaleidoscope of colors.
The 57-year-old Wagner is at the center of it all as the pilot of Della-Bear, a 90-foot-tall balloon named in honor of his state and the giant three-dimensional teddy bears attached to either side. "The teddy bear is a symbol of love in good times and bad," says Wagner, "plus it looks great and draws a good crowd."
At $5 per tethered ride, $150 per flight, and proceeds from the crafts, antiques, and food booths, the festival nets about $35,000 each year. Beneficiaries include Sugar-Free Kids retreats and the Milton Theater Renovation Project. The formerweekend programs for children with Type I diabetes and their parentsare sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, but they're the brainchild of Wagner's wife Patt, an RN and certified diabetes educator. "The two-day format emphasizes communication and friendship-building, plus education, survival skills, and standards of care," Wagner notes. "It's a truly great experience for all participants, even an old doc like me."
To oversee the Theater Renovation Project, Wagner dons another of his community service hats. He's president of the board of directors of the Milton Development Corporation, an organization with the dual mission of revitalizing the one-time shipbuilding village of Milton (pop. 1,675) while retaining its old-world charm. The renovated theater will serve as a museum, community center, and showcase for gems of the silent movie era.
Wagner's also a member of the Milton Lions Club. In that capacity, he spearheads a grant program to fund 50 percent of the cost of PanOptic Ophthalmoscopes, developed by Welch Allyn for the early detection of eye disease. So far, scopes have been placed in 20 Delaware family practitioners' offices, and a drive is underway to ensure that another 330 local doctors get the devices.
The "volunteer activities" portion of Wagner's CV doesn't end there. He's chairman of the Milton Chamber of Commerce, vice president of the Delaware chapter of the AAFP, and president of Physicians Health Services of Delaware, a statewide organization that's investigating medical savings accounts as an alternative to the existing health insurance system.
John Murray, an attorney and CPA who works with Wagner on various projects, describes him as "one of those people who never seem to run out of ideas, enthusiasm, or energy."
Murray is also quick to mention Wagner's "thriving practice" in Milton. Wagner's become the go-to guy in diabetes since moving to the Milton area in 1978, and about half of his patients are diabetics. In addition to his wife, his practice consists of two nurses, an office manager, two receptionists, and a file managerall of whom pitch in during the Delmarva festival.
Wagner's love of flying dates back to the 1960s, when he was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. It was Patt who suggested taking up ballooning. "We started going to festivals in the mid-1980s," Wagner recalls, "and eventually we said there's no reason we can't do our own festival to raise money for diabetes and bring people to Milton. It's a perfect match."
Gail Weiss. Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: Taking good works up, up, and away.