Written by Sharon Bourquin
posted on November 13, 2015 12:29
Editor’s Introduction: In our October issue of TI Life, I wrote, “Clayton will miss their Town Historian, Norm Wagner, who died unexpectedly on October 1, 2015, at Samaritan Medical Center, in Watertown. Norm was known by many in Clayton and beyond - for those of us who look for “history” about our River Communities, we owe this gentleman our profound appreciation.
At that time Sharon Bourquin, TI Museum’s librarian and membership coordinator, told me that she wrote a tribute to Norm, in her weekly column for the “Thousand Island Sun.” We asked Sharon if she would share her tribute with our readers, and we are honored to present this now.
This is the hardest column I have ever had to write for the Thousand Islands Museum News. Yesterday, a friend, mentor and someone who always was there to help, with whatever was needed, passed away. Norm Wagner was Clayton’s Town/Village Historian. His knowledge of history was immense and his memory for facts was incredible. But the best thing about Norm was his willingness to share that knowledge to help educate everyone from the schoolchildren, who visited the museum, to the visitors who came in, whether individually or on bus tours. He was always willing to lead walking tours of Clayton, or just answer questions someone might have, about their ancestors or the area.
For the few who didn’t know Norm, let me share a few facts about his life. Norm was the son of Michael and Susan Longton Wagner, the oldest of five children. Norm’s parents died suddenly, within a month of each,other in 1967 and Norm assumed the responsibility of taking care of his siblings. Anyone who knew Norm would not be surprised that he did so, as he was always there when someone needed a hand.
Norm’s career was varied; we would often talk about the different things he had done over the years; he loved boats and worked at Mercier’s as a mechanic. Leaving there, he went to work at Frink Snow-Plows as a draftsman and later at Viking Snow Plows, in Harrisville as a supervisor. He worked at garages and for several years he ran a gas station in Clayton. At the age of 50, when many are thinking of slowing down, Norm became a correctional officer at the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility, a job that he finally retired from.
But history called and in 1999 he became the Town/Village Historian, a job that he loved. When I asked Norm where his love of history started, he told me it began in school, where he didn’t like some of the subjects, but found history fascinating, especially Civil War history.
His fascination with the Civil War led him to an interest in black powder guns, which were the weapons used at that time. He spent many weekends going to black powder shoots, as well as going hunting with a black powder rifle. He enjoyed the outdoors and hunting with the guys, whether it was on Grindstone Island or in Upper Canada.
History sometimes has a way of sneaking up on you, which happened to Norm two years ago. He reconnected with Patsy, someone who had been very special to him in his teenage years.
We all enjoyed watching Norm and Patsy’s journey back in time. Their happiness was a joy to see. In the last two years whenever you saw Norm he was smiling, he so enjoyed their time together. Patsy started volunteering here at the Museum and I would sometimes tease Norm, telling him to leave our new volunteer alone and get back to work. He would just give me a smile, as he knew I was joking, we all realized how special it was for them to find their way back to each other after so many years. I wish they could have had more time together.
Norm was a wonderful asset to the Thousand Islands Museum, not only hosting our Hashing Over History program in the winter, but going along on our Sunset History Boat Cruises, to pass along his many stories and knowledge of the River and its people. Whenever someone came in to use the Research Library on Wednesdays, you could count on Norm to come out of his office and add to their knowledge. I could always count on him to have an answer to any question I had, about Clayton or the area, whether it was for an article I was writing or we were just talking about history. His passing has left all of us, who knew him, with an empty space in our lives that will be hard to fill.
By Sharon Bourquin
Sharon Bourquin was born and raised in Clayton, graduating from Clayton Central School in 1964. She started volunteering at the Thousand Island Museum after she retired as Secretary/Treasurer of Wingerath Bros., Inc. a local contracting and building supply business. For several years now, you can find Sharon at the Thousand Islands Museum as Volunteer Executive Director. When not at the Museum she says, “I can usually be found with a book in my hand, as I am an avid reader.”
This editor of “TI Life” expresses my personal appreciation to Sharon for all she does for the Clayton community and for fellow researchers. Citizens like Sharon, Norm Wagner and all those involved at the TI Museum deserve our support.