Former UW-L prof Greg Wegner to join Peace Corps at 70

Greg Wegner
UW-L professor emeritus Greg Wegner has been interested in history since he was a child growing up in Bangor. (Photo from the Lantern, the UW-L Alumni Association's quarterly magazine.)

Greg Wegner, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse history professor emeritus, is about to make some history of his own, becoming one of the older volunteers with the Peace Corps.

Wegner, a Bangor native who was named Wisconsin’s top educator in 2011, and his wife, Paula, will start a two-year Peace Corps mission in Armenia on March 14 — 11 days before his 70th birthday. The Wegners will teach English in the former Soviet republic between Asia and Europe until June 2022.

“I sought a means of giving back to the community in the form of service on a more global scale,” says Wagner, who also is a UW-L alumni. “This is all part of a larger desire to continue learning — regardless of age — with, community service as a doorway to something larger than ourselves.”

Wegner, who quickly became a much-beloved professor from the time he started teaching at UW-L in 1989, also is noted for many years of service organizing the local National History Day, which brings regional middle and high school students to the La Crosse campus to compete for the opportunity to present their own historical research at state and national competitions.

 He whetted his appetite for history when he was a child in Bangor, when would check out books at the UW-L library, strike up conversations with college students and ask local World War II veterans about their war experiences. He was particularly interested in what they witnessed in concentration campus, which fueled his fervor for Holocaust history, a topic he has researched for more than four decades.

“I thought, ‘How could this mass murder happen?’ ‘Why were innocent children and pregnant mothers sent to gas chambers?’” he recalled during an interview for a 2012 article in the Lantern, the UW-L’s Alumni Association magazine. “To this day, I still can’t fully answer the question of why, yet we must try our best to grasp it because we still deal with genocide today.”

He never became bored with his career because studying history requires probing questions about what it means to be human and the relationship between the individual and the state and the confounding continuation of genocides and mass murder in the world.

“I have to think like a student and be hungry for knowledge,” he said during the Lantern interview.

That hunger also propelled him to join the Peace Corps, where fewer than 7 percent of the volunteers are older than 50. As of 2014, the average volunteer age was 28, according to the corps.

“I don’t have all the answers. It’s the questions that should drive good teaching,” Wegner said. “At heart, I’m a student before I’m a teacher.”