We all know Jamie loves her celebrities. Looking back on my life, I have met some interesting people, but none that were Hollywood celebrities. One of the first on my list of memorable individuals I have met was a a distant cousin of Dad named I.J. Wagner of Salt Lake City.
Some of our earliest trips together were company trips to interesting places, and in the very early years of our marriage, Dad was able to bring me along at minimal expense to us. On two occasions, I accompanied him to Salt Lake City. On our second trip there, we met his cousin Izzi and his very interesting wife Jeanne. (To this day, I have not figured out how he was related to Dad, but he knew Dad’s father.)
I. J. Wagner was a very well-respected man in his community, and shortly before we met him he was named one of the twenty most influential men in Utah. He made his fortune in a family business, Wagner Bag Company, that began recycling years before it was the norm. He told Dad that his business bought burlap bags used to hold grain from farmers who were going to throw them away, and then he resold them to the company that made the original bags at a lower cost than the new bags. His company was later sold to a company called St. Regis paper.
The legacy of Izzi Wagner was that he cleaned up Salt Lake City of oversized signs and billboards, he created a major shopping center called Trolley Square, was a major donor to the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and he made significant contributions to the Jeanne Wagner Jewish Community Center as well as several hospitals, an industrial park, and the University of Utah.
The day we met him, he showed up at our hotel to take us out to breakfast for what he called “the best French toast in Salt Lake City.” He drove a Rolls Royce, which he bought his wife as a gift on a trip to Los Angeles, and I recall that the carpet on the floor felt like a fine fur coat. His wife told us that she preferred driving her old Ford Pinto because the wheel was nice and slim and so much more comfortable than the Rolls.
They were very nice and down to earth. Everyone knew him and treated him with great respect. That was my first introduction to people who lived the high life and showed me that not all of the rich were showy and ostentatious.
That is how I would like to be if I ever won a big lottery. I was very impressed and I will someday figure out where he fits on Dad’s family tree.