Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 20, 2013

A Life Well-led

TRAVERSE CITY -- In 1984, a prominent local businessman donated $500,000 to Traverse City's hospital.

He didn't hand the check to some hospital big-shot, though. He gave it to a longtime nurse.

Radio station mogul Les Biederman's decision to pass the check to veteran nurse Marge Wagner wasn't happenstance, for she wasn't an ordinary hospital employee.

An ailing Biederman witnessed first-hand Wagner's compassion, strength and professionalism.

“I cared for Les at 7 a.m. every morning," Wagner said recently. "I remember Dr. (Donald) Pike, as a friend, telling Les to 'stop smoking those cigars.' One day, toward the end of his treatment he said, 'I have something for you' and hands me a check for $500,000.

"He said, 'You're getting a bigger radiotherapy department, a new building.' I gave the check to Dr. Maurie Pelto. Afterward, Les convinced the Rotary to match his donation, which doubled the amount."

Biederman died in 1986, but his legacy continues, in part through a cancer treatment center that carries his name, on a building adjacent to Munson Medical Center's main campus.

His donations and other support earned him status as a Munson giant, but his symbolic embrace of Wagner spoke volumes about a woman who became every bit as legendary in Munson and community circles.

Wagner's care surely played a role in Biederman's gift, Pelto said.

“There's no doubt that the sheer amount of the donation was due to Marge Wagner,” he said.

Wagner spent 43 years treating Munson's cancer patients, and got her start in 1950, back when the facility was still called James Decker Munson Hospital. From a sober perch tending to cancer patients, Kingsley native Wagner watched a sleepy small town grow into a tourist and retiree hotbed, as well as northern Michigan's economic hub.

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