Meet the Wagners

When a young couple moved to Seattle to build a new life in the 1950s one of the first decisions they had to make is, “Where do we live?” Dick and Colleen Wagner chose just about the most adventurous place in town to live, on a houseboat on Lake Union. Today that’s a trendy and expensive idea, but in the 1950s, house boat life was still a somewhat “out of the mainstream” choice. You might even call it, “a bit bohemian.”

But in the shadow of the Aurora Bridge, Dick and Colleen raised two boys…and began a love affair with Seattle maritime history.

Together in the late 1960’s Dick and Colleen turned that love of boats and water and people, opened their home as “The Old Boathouse”, and working with all the volunteers and friends who they came to meet on their houseboat, they went on to found The Center for Wooden Boats.

Together, they built biographies and a long list of Northwest Maritime Institutions that they helped guide.

Dick, in addition to helping found CWB, has written a book on the history of Lake Union, Legends of the Lake, 2008, has written dozens and dozens of articles on boats and maritime history in Nor’westing Magazine, Ash Breeze, the Journal of the Traditional Small Craft Association, Sea History, the Journal of the National Maritime Historical Society; and WoodenBoat magazine. He has spoken at conferences on maritime issues around the world.

Dick continues to serve on advisory boards for the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, Discovery Modelers Education Center, The Cama Beach Advisory Board, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Advisory Council, the Association of King County Historical Organizations and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Maritime Heritage Council.   He has also served on the City of Seattle’s South Lake Union Planning Board, 4Culture of King County Heritage Advisory Committee, the Museum Small Craft Association Board, and the National Maritime Alliance Board

Colleen Wagner, in addition to her work at CWB, was manager of the Museum of Sea and Ships and events and education manager for Northwest Seaport. Colleen has designed exhibits for the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Oregon and for CWB. She served as a Board Member of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and also raised funds for museum planning through annual model exhibits, book sales and raffles.

Dick and Colleen have won numerous awards individually and as a couple for their work.   They won the Watercircles Pacific Award in 2011 for “their vision of building the ever-evolving Center for Wooden Boats. Their love of wooden boats is a gift to the Seattle community.” In 1995, Mystic Seaport awarded the couple the W.P. Stevens Award for those “who have made a significant, lasting contribution to American boating”.

And in the fall of 2013, The Teaching with Small Boats Alliance took time out of a busy schedule to honor the couple with a special dinner at Mystic Seaport to thank them for the lifetime of inspiration and hard work in helping so many communities across the country to found their own programs that make learning through experience in boats their central focus.  Dick is already in planning meetings for the 2015 “Teaching with Small Boats” conference which will be held in Washington state, where Dick founded it two decades ago.


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