College Board Chair Mike Wenger: Former fighter pilot now an active community volunteer ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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College Board Chair Mike Wenger: Former fighter pilot now an active community volunteer

Wenger with plane
U.S. Air Force veteran Mike Wenger at flying school

Even when he was a fighter pilot, Laurel Ridge College Board Chair Mike Wenger was impressed with community colleges.

“Throughout my Air Force career, education’s always been very important to me, whether it’s technical training for flying, or academic training at the university level,” said Wenger, a 1973 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. “When the opportunity to be on the board came up, I jumped at it. It’s the most congenial, well-organized board that I’ve ever been associated with. I’m a fan of the community college system wherever it is. Virginia has a particularly strong community college system, which is just a real asset to the commonwealth.”

And, Laurel Ridge is at the top of the system in Wenger’s view.

“The community orientation, the meticulous efforts to connect to the community, both the business community and the learner community, to make sure that subjects are useful and well received, and the efforts the college is doing to make it easy to get into the system, I just think all of the activities and efforts that are going into the college’s strategic plan are absolutely spot on,” he said. “It’s just really heartening to see the progress.”

Wenger and his wife, Joyce, are themselves very community oriented. In 2022, the couple was among the 5 Over 50 honorees of Aging in Place, an agency serving Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties. He has logged thousands of miles as a volunteer driver with the organization, and participates in various other volunteer endeavors, including the Rappahannock Lions Club, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Blue Ridge Partnership for Invasive Species Management and Old Rag Master Naturalists.

Wenger, who grew up near Akron, Ohio, earned his degree in engineering management at the Air Force Academy. He earned his master of business administration degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. His first flying assignment was in the F-106 interceptor aircraft. Wenger noted this was during the height of the Cold War.

“Up through the 1970s, we had airplanes on 5-minute alert all over the country in case somebody tried to attack, or smugglers tried to fly into the country,” he said. “That was the mission for F-106 squadrons.”

Wenger’s next assignment was as an academic instructor at the academy, after which the Air Force sent him to Oxford University in England to earn his Ph.D. in international business. After defending his thesis, it was off to Arizona to train on the A-10 ground attack fighter before being sent to Korea and later back to Arizona where he was the operations officer for the central Air Force A-10 training school. After that, he closed out his Air Force career as an associate professor of management at the academy.

When Wenger retired from the Air Force in 1994, Joyce’s career took precedence.

“We moved 11 times in 21 years, so it was her turn,” he said.

While Joyce worked at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Wenger taught at Washington State University and worked as a consultant. This led to a job at Sun Microsystems as the worldwide director of elearning just as the internet was taking off. That position involved a lot of traveling – 200,000 miles a year.

“At one point, I realized I could quit working,” Wenger said. “I retired before Joyce and have not looked back. I quit working for money in about 2005.”

The couple spent 17 years living in Fairfax County before moving to Rappahannock County 10 years ago, and quickly becoming active, productive members of the community.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.