CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 62, he's retiring this week as director of the West Virginia Library Commission, a fancy title for state librarian.
As a boy growing up in exceptionally humble circumstances on Georges Creek, the idea that he would retire one day from a top position in state government was unthinkable. And something to do with libraries? Ha. That's a good one.
But sometimes life just kind of happens. When opportunities knocked, he opened the doors.
He started with the library commission 43 years ago as a part-time mail runner while finishing a degree in history. While he figured out what to do with that history degree, he took a job in the state library reference department. Just marking time, mind you.
He got a master's degree in library science and a couple of promotions. Next thing he knew, he was the head honcho.
J.D. Waggoner has come a very long way.
"I was born and raised on Georges Creek, five miles east of Charleston on Route 60. We lived on the hill, 120 steps to the house. The back end sat on the hill. The front end was 30 feet in the air, a typical West Virginia home.
"I grew up with my mom and two sisters. I was the baby boy, so I actually grew up with three mothers, a lot of people giving me instructions. That worked out pretty well, because I ended up in the library profession, which is 80 percent female. Through my whole career, I didn't have a male supervisor until I got in administration.
"My dad died of cancer when I was 3. He was 27. Mom was 25. The three of us children were 7, 5 and 3. My mom was a phenomenal lady, just 4-foot-10, but made of steel.
"She dropped out of high school at 17 to get married. She never drove a car. If we were going anywhere, it was on the Greyhound bus. About time I got in junior high, Mom got her GED and worked for the Charleston National Bank as an elevator operator. When they built the new building, they didn't need an elevator operator, so they moved her into bookkeeping.
"Early on, I wanted to be a fireman. I've been a volunteer firefighter in Malden for 40 some years. I decided finally that I was going to be a history teacher.
"The first complete book I read was because my fifth-grade teacher made me. Yet once I discovered reading, it changed everything. That's why I started out in history. Through reading, I became a Civil War buff. It all ties together.
"When I was a kid, we had a series of Zane Grey books in a bookcase my dad had made. Books were always there. And as difficult as things were financially, the newspaper was always there.
"When my kids were little, it was Dr. Seuss' book of the month. Some of the best times I remember are sitting in an old platform rocker with my two kids in my lap and reading to them. We don't do that enough.
"My mom was determined I would go to college, but we didn't have the money. The dean of women at DuPont High, Violet Kimball, put together a financial aid package for me to go to Morris Harvey College.
In my third year, I decided teaching wasn't for me, but I was close to a history degree, so I got my undergraduate degree in history.
"A young man I graduated from high school with, his sister worked in employment security and knew the personnel officer of the library commission. I had gotten married in September of '68 and was looking for a part-time job, because I was only two years into my degree.
"I got a job with the library commission as a mail runner. I worked from 1 to 5. I drove an old green Ford Econoline. At that time, the library commission was in two buildings in Kanawha City and two here at the Capitol. I moved the mail around.
"When I graduated from Morris Harvey in '71, I was totally unemployable. What are you going to do with a history degree? There was an opening here in the reference library. I figured I would stay a couple of years and figure out what I was going to do. Forty-three years later, here I am.