Boonville - Newell Fiske Wagoner, 98, a native and lifelong resident of Boonville, beloved husband of Evelyn, passed away on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, in the comfort of his home. Mr. Wagoner was a founder of Wagoner-Hickok Insurance Agency of Boonville and served as president of the Boonville Fair Association for over forty years.
Mr. Wagoner was born on November 8, 1920, a son of John H. and Josephine Smalt Wagoner. He lived in his cherished home on Schuyler Street since 1924. Newell graduated from Boonville High School in 1939 and from Amherst College in Massachusetts, in 1943, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. He had been a class agent since his graduation. During high school and college, Newell excelled at running the high hurdles in track and field competitions. After graduation, he returned to Boonville and was employed at Revere Copper & Brass in Rome and then sold life insurance for the Equitable Insurance Company.
On August 11, 1945, Newell was united in marriage with Evelyn Mary Vernon at the First Presbyterian Church in Utica. Their marriage was a loving union and commitment between two wonderful people, which continued for over 73 happy years.
In 1950, Mr. Wagoner, his mother Josephine and his stepfather Harry Hickok established the Wagoner-Hickok Insurance Agency specializing in general insurance. Later they acquired the Higby Insurance Agency of Constableville, becoming one of the largest insurance agencies in the area providing excellent service to their valued customers. He sold the agency in 1985 and then devoted his time to many other activities.
As a youngster, Newell developed a keen interest in the Boonville Fair when he walked horses following the races at the fair. From that time onward, the annual fair was a highlight in his life. In 1956, he was elected to the board of directors of the fair association, assisting with advertising and public relations, becoming vice president in 1961 and president in 1964.
As a result of Newell’s leadership, vision and dedication, growth was demonstrated in every area of the fair: the physical plant, attendance, and entertainment. Improvements included upgrading the drainage system and paving fairground roads. The fair and the Boonville Kiwanis Club cooperated to construct the Kiwanis Youth Building for use by both organizations. In 1972, they purchased additional land to expand the fairgrounds that included a new entrance, amphitheater area, and a bridge to a new parking area.
In 1973, an original exhibition building was razed and a steel exhibit hall erected, along with a new horse show ring on the infield. During the later 1970’s, new horse barns and parks for campers and trailers were constructed, leading to the further expansion of the fairground including a new agricultural exhibition area with a milking parlor and pancake house. During the 1980’s a new covered stage was constructed.
In 1988, the Boonville Fair, celebrated its 100th anniversary, which was marked by the creation of the Boonville Fair Museum in which Newell enjoyed working, as he loved sharing stories about the fair’s history with the many visitors. In 1992, a new office building was constructed and in 1994, he supervised the renovation of the grandstand.
During his tenure as fair president, many nationally famous country music stars, including Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Jeannie C. Riley, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell and Crystal Gayle performed at the fair. In 1973, Country singer J.C. Riley set the largest single night attendance. He was also instrumental in the production of the fair-sponsored Miss Oneida County Pageant. Following his retirement as president in 2006, he continued to serve as secretary. He was indeed Mr. Boonville Fair!
Mr. Wagoner’s life exemplified responsible community service. He was a charter member of the Boonville Area Chamber of Commerce and was an active member for many years. In 1962, he served on the committee which was instrumental in bringing the annual New York State Woodsmen’s Field Days to the fairgrounds. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Newell volunteered at the Boonville Snow Festival. Newell served on the Boonville Municipal Commission from 1962-1982. He was instrumental in establishing the Adirondack Medical Center to ensure continued health services for his community. In the 1960’s he served on the site committee for the construction of the new Adirondack Central High School.
Mr. Wagoner’s dedication and commitment were recognized when he was chosen the New York Show People’s Fair person of the year and inducted into for the New York State Agricultural Fair Association Hall of Fame. He received the National Grange Public Service Award, the International Association of Fairs and Exposition American Heritage Award for meritorious service to the fair industry, and the Donald Exford Community Service Award. He was designated an Oneida County Living Legend by the Oneida County Historical Society and served as the Grand Marshall of both the Boonville Fair and Woodsmen Field Days Parades. He also served as President of the NYS Association of Agricultural Fairs. More important than awards and honors to Newell, a very humble man, were the lasting relationships he built with people over the years.
Mr. Wagoner was a life member of the First Presbyterian Church of Boonville, where he was a choir member for over 70 years, He also sang in Voices of the River, an all-male northern New York chorus as well as the Adirondack Community Chorus. He served on various church governing committees and, with his wife, led the youth group for several years. Newell served as a role model for many young people, always providing encouragement and guidance.
Newell greatly loved the outdoors and enjoyed hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. He began hunting with his dad as a youth, continuing to enjoy the sport at his hunting camp in Forestport. Many of his early hunting experiences are written about in Robert Elinskas’ book entitled In the Woods with Adirondack Sportsmen.
In 1932, Newell attended the Winter Olympic Games, at Lake Placid, NY and he and his family watched Billy Fiske, his cousin, compete in the bobsled race and win the gold medal. He was interviewed by Andy Bull, author of Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and Fastest Men in the World, to gather information on Billy Fiske. Newell had a passion for the Olympics and in 1980, he and his family enjoyed attending the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.
Newell greatly loved his family and many dear friends. In addition to his wife Evelyn, Newell is survived by one daughter, Jackie and husband Trace Schrafft, Osterville, MA; one son, Bill and wife Lori Wagoner, Fairport, NY; one grandson, Andrew and wife Christina Wagoner, Longmont, CO; one step-grandson, Ted and wife Jamie Schrafft, Charlotte, NC; one great-grandson, James Schrafft; and one foster daughter, Bridgette Capron Farney. Also surviving are a niece, five nephews, and a sister-in-law, Joyce Miller Wagoner Cameron, Naples, FL. The last of his family, Newell was predeceased by his sister, Virginia “Jimmie” Booth; brothers Robert “Bob” and John “Jack”; father, John in 1943; stepfather, Harry Hickok in 1969; and mother, Josephine Wagoner Hickok in 1979.
Calling hours will be Friday, December 21, 2018 from 1-5 P.M. at the Trainor Funeral Home, 143 Schuyler Street. Boonville. A Memorial Service celebrating Newell’s life, open to all, will be held Saturday, December 22, at 11:00 A.M., at the First Presbyterian Church, Boonville. Memorial contributions may be made to First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 213, Boonville, NY 13309 or to the Boonville Fair Association, P.O. Box 775, Boonville, NY 13309.