When Starlee Wagner was a little girl, her parents Erik and Angie never had to worry about her doing her schoolwork. She just did it because she knew that’s what needed to be done. Those moments foreshadowed the woman she would eventually become, whose every instinct tells her to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing.
Starlee has been an incredible influence on her husband, Kile, and her daughter, Kaytlyn, in that regard, but she has also given so much of herself to raising her nephews Michael and Shay and her niece Raya. The choices she has made have never been about her own self-interests, but rather in the name of serving her family by any means necessary.
That effort is felt in all kinds of places, as Starlee focuses on building people up and spreading kindness wherever she goes.
“She is a true gift to this world,” Erik said. “She makes this world a better place, truly. That’s probably the greatest thing I can say about my daughter is she makes this world a better place. I don’t know many people like her.”
Not many do, and that sentiment comes out again and again from her friends and family. Starlee helped make so many more things possible for her niece and nephews by giving all the time, energy and resources she possibly could. Starlee has also made an unwavering commitment to raise Kaytlyn to be decent, respectful and responsible.
The key to all of it is what the Wagners call the “Grandma Heart,” which perfectly characterizes Starlee’s motivations and priorities in life. Her heart goes out to people in a most uncommon way, whether that’s in her home, in her family or at the school where she is a resource for parents and the first face most visitors see.
“A grandma’s heart to our family means she is really kind, really empathic and always really caring,” Kaytlyn said. “That shows a lot in everyday life. She works at a school and is always talking to parents about problems and helping them figure everything out. She’s always just so sweet and just makes everyone’s day.”
Kile gets emotional when he thinks of the man he was when he first met Starlee and the man he has since become. He describes himself as “lost” as a young man, and meeting Starlee through his brother’s wife changed everything. He found himself and his purpose, and he credits all of it to Starlee’s love and thoughtfulness.
Kile lived with his brother when he first met her, and he observed the kind of commitment she made to bring joy to her nieces and nephews. They would take daylong trips to places like Seaworld or Knott’s Berry Farm, and Kile started volunteering to be an extra set of hands with the kids. He has wanted to be near Starlee ever since.
“When I first met her, I was kind of a lost soul, trying to find who I was,” Kile said. “Seeing the type of person she is and being around her made me want to be a better man. It drove me to be somebody that I wanted to be so I could be included in her life. Her kindness has inspired me to be a better man.”
Starlee also embodies the cautionary phrase to not mistake kindness for weakness. She is kind, sure, but she also has a relentless passion and energy to make good things happen. That, too, is a lesson that seems to resonate with Kaytlyn, who is following her mom’s example as a tender-hearted fighter who is unafraid to be bold.
“She brings a collective energy that gets things done,” Angie said. “She can collaborate with people. She always includes people, but doesn’t ever lose focus of the goals in front of her.”
Loving and supporting her family has always been at the top of Starlee’s list of goals. She will gladly do the right thing first and ask questions later, just as she did with the three kids she helped raise when they needed her most.
Erik isn’t her biological father, but he said they were a “one-story house” because there were no “steps” in their family. He has a terminal illness now and is fighting for his life each and every day. Hearing from Starlee puts even more fight in his heart.
“She calls me, and says she loves my face,” Erik said. “I love her face, and I can always see it when I close my eyes, no matter if it’s been six months or a year. It’s something she tells me every single time on the phone, and it gives my heart strength. I still tell her to this day I would go into a courtroom and adopt her. She doesn’t have my last name, but I would love to give it to her. She says, ‘I know who my dad is, and that’s you.’
“Her love for me is amazing, and my love for her is just as amazing. I am so proud of her and the woman that she is and the woman that she is going to be. I feel very safe as chief of my tribe — I have 12 grandchildren and four children — but I don’t worry about Kaytlyn or Starlee or Kile. I know they’re going to do great because they have Starlee, and it’s a relief for someone like me who is terminal to not have to worry about that arm of my tribe.”
Starlee is a woman who makes her parents beam with pride with every act of kindness she performs. But no matter what she does or how far she goes, Angie said her love for her will be the same as it was the moment she was born.
“Although she is a remarkable grown woman, she will always be my baby,” she said.
Starlee has had a similar conversation with Kaytlyn about staying young forever, which might be the only time that Kaytlyn has ever “disappointed” her.
“I would probably want to tell her, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t stay 7 forever, but I’ll always be her little girl,'” Kaytlyn said.
As for Kile, he will continue to view every day in Starlee’s life as a blessing and an opportunity he doesn’t take lightly. He remembers early in their relationship meeting Starlee’s mother and grandmother and the kindness they showed him, and now Starlee does the same on a daily basis.
That “Grandma’s Heart” apparently runs in the family.
“She comes from a lineage of spiritually strong, independent women leaders who I admire and aspire to be more like,” Kile said. “I trust her with my life and I am honored to call her my wife. I’ll always be grateful for her giving me an opportunity to be in her life. I just love her so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”