By Carol Mowdy Bond
Jim Wagner celebrated his 86th birthday on July 5, and he’ll mark 51 years in business this coming fall. Wagner’s grandfather, J.B. Wagner, named Wagner Road in Yukon. And that’s not even half the story.
September 1969 Wagner founded his Green Country Automotive, Inc., 2771 S. Cemetery Road, a wholesale company for automotive chemicals.
And in the 1990s, Wagner and his wife Virginia’s love of gospel music evolved into something bigger than they could ever image.
A GOSPEL SING IN A CAVE
“In August 1996, Virginia and I attended the all night gospel sing in Seminole,” Wagner said. “At that time, that was the only gospel sing in Oklahoma. It was an outdoor sing. Virginia was looking around the booths, and found a gospel group that had gospel sings inside Meramec Caverns near Stanton, Missouri, and she wanted to go. So, we bought our first motor home, and went in October 1994. It was put on by the group, The Lesters, a Christian gospel group out of St. Louis. While we were at Meramec Caverns, we talked with some of the head people, and I asked what I would have to do to promote gospel groups in Oklahoma, because we needed it in our state.”
In January 1995, an opportunity came knocking. So, Wagner reached out to Yukon business people, to raise money to sponsor a gospel sing, and found several who were interested. One was Jim Snyder, who owned Snyder’s IGA. And in fact, Wagner’s first gospel sing was held that year on March 3, at Covenant Community Church, which was Snyder’s home church.
Wagner and his wife were onto something. Thanksgiving weekend that same year, they put together and promoted a gospel sing at the Yukon High School auditorium. “We had big name groups, and a local group,” said Wagner. “Traffic was backed up on I-40 into Oklahoma City for three miles, with people bumper to bumper, trying to get into Yukon for the event. That was the beginning. We did those gospel sings on Thanksgiving weekend for the next five years.”
With that, Wagner founded and became president of the Oklahoma United Gospel Music Association Inc. of Yukon, putting together and promoting hundreds of gospel singing events, averaging 20 to 25 events annually. In 2019, he and his family put together and promoted 28 concerts.
“It started out as just something to do. It was a hobby kind of thing,” Wagner said. “It’s developed into a very active business. We have over 100 members. The members are musical groups and soloists from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. Our family members aren’t musical. We just schedule, find the venue and musicians, and promote each event.”
Then, about 1999 or 2000, Wagner and his wife began thinking about all the events they had promoted, and they wanted to do things differently. “We didn’t want anyone not to be able to attend due to not having the money for a ticket,” Wagner said. “So we switched it all to a love offering at each event.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a ministry. We are a non-profit. When we do a program, the donated money goes to the talent to help further their ministries,” Wagner said.
But the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has turned things upside down. The association had 31 concerts scheduled for this year, and had to cancel most of them due to the virus.
The second and third weekends in July every year, the association has showcase fundraisers. All the talents perform voluntarily to raise funds. “Over the years, we’ve raised enough money to pay all our expenses for the upcoming year,” Wagner said. “This year we had to cancel our showcases due to COVID-19. This year is tougher.”
In 1999, Wagner semi-retired from his Green Country Automotive, Inc. He still manages the company, but only works a few days each month.
After he retired, he and Virginia spent a lot of time taking cruises to see the world. And Wagner owns a massive collection of shot glasses, he has brought home from all over the world, to prove it.
OIL, A COVERED WAGON, AND AN OAK TREE
“My great-grandfather, Isaiah Wagner, was hunting and scouting for land,” Wagner said. “He walked down by a creek in Oklahoma Territory. And there was oil on top of the water. He immediately went to the land office and purchased the land, which was near Cement. That was shortly after 1889.”
Wagner said, “Isaiah went back to Independence, Kansas, and he and his wife Hannah then came into Oklahoma Territory by covered wagon in the 1890s. They established a home on the land, and Isaiah raised cattle. But that land was nearly dead center in the Anadarko oil field. His monthly royalties were $10,000. At one time, there were 18 wells on his land.”
On their property, there was a big oak tree that Hannah loved. The men wanted to chop it down to build an oil derrick. But Hannah said, “No!” So, they had to find their wood elsewhere.
“Hannah had a twin sister. Hannah had nine boys and a girl. Her twin sister had nine girls and a boy,” Wagner said with a chuckle.
Wagner’s grandparents, Pearl and J.B. Wagner, bought 80 acres in Yukon on the southeast corner of Highway 4 aka Piedmont Road and Wagner Road, so named because that’s where J.B. and Pearl lived. J.B. and Pearl farmed, and raised hogs, cattle, and dairy cows. They were staunch members of the Yukon United Methodist Church.
“When the men decided to do the Ground Hog Day dinners, J.B. donated a hog to butcher to make the sausage,” Wagner said.
BASKETBALL, INDEPENDENCE DAY, AND EMERALD VALLEY
Both of Wagner’s parents graduated from Yukon High during the 1930s. His dad, Lloyd Wagner, was born in Cement in the 19teens, and was one of six sons. Lloyd was a YHS basketball player at a time when the team was really hot. Wagner’s mom, Avis Marie Cook Wagner, didn’t graduate high school. She decided instead to marry Lloyd.
Avis’ dad, James Cook, lived in Moore at one time. He was a truck farmer who raised vegetables. From Moore, he hauled the vegetables in a wagon, pulled by a horse, to the Oklahoma City farmer’s market to sell.
Lloyd’s brothers Roy and Lesley founded and owned Wagner Studios, a photography business in Oklahoma City. Wagner said, “They started their business in a dark room in my Grandma Pearl’s cellar on Wagner Road. For many years, they did the school pictures for all of the Oklahoma City schools, all of Yukon, and Mustang and other school districts.”
Wagner finds humor in his birthday. His mom, Avis, went into labor on July 4 while in a farmhouse southwest of Mustang, which caused excitement because that was the day of her birthday. But Wagner made his appearance just after midnight on July 5, 1934.
One of three children, Wagner lived in Oklahoma City during his early elementary school days. In 1946, the family moved to a farm that his grandfather had purchased on Mustang Road. Wagner then entered 8th grade.
“For 8th grade, I attended a little one-room school on Highway 4 called Emerald Valley Elementary. At that time, there were a lot of one-room schools all over the area. I graduated from 8th grade from Emerald Valley. The building is no longer there,” Wagner said.
Wagner then entered 9th grade in Yukon schools, and graduated from YHS in 1952.
He moved on to Oklahoma State Technical School in 1954 and began training as an aircraft mechanic.
But a friend warned him that he was about to be drafted to serve in the Korean War. So, in July 1954, Wagner joined the U.S. Air Force.
While in the Air Force, Wagner spent his entire tour of duty in Amarillo, Texas, teaching aircraft mechanics and aircraft electrical systems. He then went into sales, and worked for a time for AT&T.
In 1955, Wagner married Virginia Niles. Virginia, who was from El Reno, graduated from El Reno schools in 1952. They have one daughter, Kim Wagner Stephens.
Wagner built the family an underground home, and he still lives there today. “I built everything except the cement slab,” Wagner said.
He and his wife were about to celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary on February 26, 2018. Unfortunately, Virginia passed away on February 12.
“I’d like to think that my company, Green Country Automotive, Inc., will continue to support my family,” Wagner said. “Because of the Gospel Music Association, an untold number of people, through the years, made decisions to follow Christ, and also people joined churches of their choice. I’d like to think that the Gospel Music Association has made a difference in somebody’s life.”