Lilya Vinglas Wagner

Lilya Wagner is an accomplished pianist and organist, the author of major references on philanthropic services and fundraising as well as other books, a fundraiser extraordinaire, and a professor at a major university. She began her career teaching music, English, and Spanish in Seventh-day Adventist academies and now serves as director of the Adventist church’s Philanthropic Service for Institutions, a consulting department for Adventist organizations in the North American Division.

She also continues her affiliation with the Lily Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University as a philanthropic studies faculty member and trainer for the Fundraising School.

Lilya was born in Tallinn, Estonia, and would spend her childhood in Germany, New York City, and Bolivia, the younger of two children of Richard Viktor and Anna Priede Vinglas. The family fled from Estonia in 1944, just ahead of the invasion of the Russian army and after several years as refugees in various parts of Europe, eventually emigrated to the U.S in June 1947.

Her father had been a minister in Estonia and served as president of the Estonian Conference from the beginning of WW II until the family left the country. They then lived in Germany, where he served as a pastor and after arriving in New York City, accepted an invitation to serve as principal of the Adventist school in Bolivia, South America. They lived there from 1948 until 1954, at which time the family returned to New York City, where he taught at Greater New York Academy.

After graduating from GNYA in 1958, Lilya completed a B.S. degree in music at Atlantic Union College in 1962, with piano as her performance area.  She also learned to play the flute and has continued to play it occasionally. While there she met and married John Wagner, who was majoring in a biology and religion.

They started their careers at Platte Valley Academy in Nebraska, where she taught music and he served as boy’s dean. They then taught at Pioneer Valley Academy, where she taught piano and organ for five years. During that time she completed an M.Mus. at Andrews University in 1968.

In 1970 they accepted positions at Madison Academy in Tennessee, where she taught various subjects and John served as principal for four years. From 1974 to 1976 Lilya worked in public relations at the Florida Hospital in Orlando while continuing to be active in music, particularly as organist for the Forest Lake Church.

From 1977 to 1980 she was on the staff at the University of Florida English Language Center in Gainesville while pursuing a doctoral degree, which was completed in 1980.  Her dissertation on the history of peer teaching was subsequently published by Greenwood Press.  The Wagners accepted positions at Union College in 1980 and served there until 1983, she teaching English and directing the writing laboratory at Union College while he served as Academic Dean.

In 1983 they moved to Collegedale, Tennessee, where she worked as a freelancer in public relations and also as organist for the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, and he served as president of Southern Adventist College. They were invited back to Union in 1986 to serve as an administrative team, he as president and she as vice president for institutional advancement.  

They worked to reduce a college debt of approximately $9 million, and when they left in 1991, it had been reduced by half. Although they left Union in 1991, the fundraising they had started resulted in complete retirement of the debt in 1998.

While at UC, she completed an M.A. in journalism at the University of Nebraska in 1988.  Her thesis on women war correspondents of World War II was published by Greenwood Press and eventually became the foundation for a documentary on women’s achievements as war correspondents.

In January of 1991 Lilya joined the newly-established Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, a premiere organization focusing on philanthropy and fundraising. She served there as associate director for public service and director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, was in charge of curriculum preparation and revision for The Fund Raising School (TFRS), and was a frequent speaker and presenter in workshops.

From 1993 to 1996 she worked as Vice President for Development at the National Association for Community Leadership in Indianapolis while also continuing her affiliation with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  She has maintained that relationship for over twenty years and also teaches graduate classes at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota.  From 2005 to 2008 Lilya worked in international development, serving as Vice President of Counterpart International.

Currently her full-time employment is at the North American Division of the Adventist Church, where she is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions.  John returned to serve as president of UC in 2011, a position he still holds.

Lilya has made numerous contributions in research, writing, and conducting seminars  - all activities that have required extensive travel. She has written numerous articles on various topics, and authored several books.

She is also active as a performing musician, including a special performance of a Handel organ concerto with orchestra to celebrate Union College’s 100th anniversary.  In addition to serving as organist for various churches when needed (extensive on-going travel precludes a permanent position), she also plays the flute and is enjoying her accordion, which she has played since high school and which is experiencing a renaissance as an instrument in the United States.   

Wagner has received numerous awards for teaching, advertising, and fund-raising, including top honors from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 1988 and 1990; Alumna of the Year, Atlantic Union College in 2002; and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Skystone Ryan Book Prize in 2002 for Careers in Fundraising.

She was able to return to her homeland, Estonia, in 1992 and appreciates opportunities to assist her country by working with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), an activity that has helped her family, friends, and country.


Sources: Information provided by Lilya Wagner, October 2013; Biographies at NAD Health Summit, 2013, The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, The Fund Raising School, and the American Entertainment International Speakers Bureau websites; New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,; Lilya Wagner, Estonia, “The Church That Bombs Couldn’t Destroy,” Adventist Review, 17 December 1992, 12-14; Obituary for Richard Victor Vinglas, Adventist Review, 7 April 1994, 30; Listing of Books at and Barnes and; “John and Lila Wagner Return to Union College,” Mid-America Adventist Outlook, 5 December 1985, 17; Ryan Teller, “Wagner named president of Union College,” press release, 6 February 2012; personal knowledge.    

Books and Selected Writings by Lilya Wagner

To Linger Is to Die (A Crown book) 1975


Peer Teaching: Historical Perspective 1982


Heartquake (Daybreak) 1983


Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief? (Quest)  1983


Caring is Not a Spectator Sport (Lifeline)  1986


Women War Correspondents of World War II 1989


Careers in Fundraising (AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series) Oct 25, 2001



Reprising Timeless Topics, New Directions for Fundraising April 13, 2005


Leading Up: Transformational Leadership for Fundraisers (The AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series) Sep 16, 2005