The Beat Goes On

By Ben Frotscher
Iowa alum’s love for the arts lives on through her generosity toward musicians at the University of Iowa School of Music.
Margaret Waggoner Submitted photo Margaret Waggoner spent more than three decades teaching physics, including at the University of Iowa.

Margaret Waggoner (46BA, 48MS, 50PhD) loved music. She also had a passion for architecture, history, nuclear physics, teaching, and so much more.

“She was a Jane of all trades, and a master of all,” says Melanie Lamere, a friend of Waggoner’s for the past 20 years. “She didn’t do anything halfway.”

Margaret Waggoner Submitted photo Margaret Waggoner

Growing up near Centerville, Iowa, Waggoner was introduced to music in the fifth grade when she overheard the school band rehearsing in a nearby room. This exposure ultimately led her to join band and orchestra—playing saxophone and alto clarinet before picking up the bassoon.

At age 16, Waggoner enrolled at the University of Iowa and continued her interest in music by joining several chamber ensembles and the university symphony under the direction of Himie Voxman (33BSChE, 34MA), for whom the School of Music building is named. Initially interested in architecture, Waggoner took an inspiring physics class that led her to change her major and pursue three degrees in nuclear physics from Iowa.

“She did well in school, but when she started applying for jobs—specifically teaching jobs—she was told, at the time, that it was against some schools’ policies to hire women,” says good friend Bob Labrie. “Margaret never forgot that, and she didn’t understand why that was even a policy. Growing up on a farm, her experience was if there was a job to do, you got it done.”

After securing her first teaching job at Vassar College, Waggoner began a more than three-decade career in academia—teaching physics and pursuing research at Stanford University, the University of Maryland, and Iowa, before taking on leadership positions at Smith College, Wilson College, and Radcliffe College. Retiring eventually to Goshen, Massachusetts—where she met both Labrie and Lamere—Waggoner remained fiercely independent while still enjoying music through local music performances at the Marlboro School of Music and South Mountain Concert Series.

Margaret Waggoner Photo credit: Kate Metcalf Ben Coelho, professor of bassoon at the University of Iowa School of Music, takes a look at the late Margaret Waggoner’s more than eight-decades-old Heckel bassoon.

“Music was a passion, a hobby, and an event for Margaret,” says Lamere. “She would not listen to music at home. Music was to be experienced in person—not just listened to casually. She wanted to watch and experience the relationship between instruments and performers, the facial expressions, and discover the story being told.”

Waggoner died in 2021 at age 96, and she’s now helping young musicians pursue their passions through her estate plans. While she’s supporting aspiring musicians in Massachusetts, she’s also giving back to her alma mater—creating a music scholarship for undergraduate students, providing funds for the Rita Benton Music Library to secure new sheet music, arranging funds for students to purchase instruments, and donating her more than eight decades-old Heckel bassoon to the UI School of Music.

“Margaret wanted to help those who have a love for music, and she didn’t want them to worry about how to pay for it,” says Labrie. “She specifically wanted to support undergraduate students because someone had helped her and gave her a scholarship when she went to Iowa. This was one way for her to pay it forward.”

Labrie and Lamere, the administrators of Waggoner’s estate, have been inspired by her generosity and passion for the arts.

“Margaret has taken Melanie and me on a journey,” says Labrie. “She was a strong, independent woman, and because she was also a shrewd investor, she’s going to be helping a lot of people, too.”

Learn how you can make a difference at the University of Iowa by visiting our planned giving website, or contact Susan Hagan, JD, executive director for planned giving at the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, at or 319-335-3305. 

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