Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Oliver Wagner Brought Mardi Gras to Covington

In 1985 the St. Tammany Farmer ran this article about Oliver Wagner, the man who brought Mardi Gras to Covington. Click on the image to make the text larger. 

Oliver Wagner

Text from the above article:

Oliver Wagner, the Man Who Brought Mardi Gras To Covington

by Marcelle Hanemann

COVINGTON — If the historical spirit of Mardi Gras in Covington had a name, a personification, many local folks agree it would be Oliver Wagner.

The sight of the enthusiastic man sitting handsomely astride a horse, and leading the nighttime parade through the streets of the town is etched in the memories of many. When they think of Mardi Gras, they think of him. And deservedly so, for Oliver Wagner was very much responsible for bringing carnival to West St. Tammany.

"It meant the whole world to him," said his wife, Yvonne Haik Wagner. "He was one of the organizers of Olympia. He was on the board, and was a duke. and I hate to say it because he's my husband, but he could have been king any time he wanted. He just never put his name up. He was the first knight on the first horse. And year in and year out,  he'd work like a tiger for that parade.

"He was also one of the finest Lions in the state, and he helped with that parade for many years," she said.

"He didn't just want Mardi Gras to be enjoyed by the few people who went to the balls. He wanted to give the children and the man on the street a chance to see Mardi Gras in Covington."

And that be did. In the early' years, Wagner says, he literally brought the parade across the Causeway from New Orleans And that. according to Warren Illing, Sr., captain of Olympia in those days, was no simple task.

'He was in charge of getting all the tractors and trucks and floats together," said Illing. "And we used to have to go to New Orleans to get the floats because we rented them from Blane Kern.

Around midnight on the Friday before the parade he'd get the trucks together and go to Blane Kern's den, and bring the floats back in the middle of the night.

 Then he was in charge of getting the tractors and floats all hooked up and off for the parade. On Saturday night after the parade he'd have to take the floats back to New Orleans He did a good job. He probably did that for 10 years a more, and he was also active in the Lions Club."

He'd be gone overnight, said Mrs Wagner. "He'd take all the young men with him And I remember one of the Causeway policemen once told me they had a time with those floats."

Wagner worked hard to ensure that the colored lights and elegant and traditional costumes of Carnival could be enjoyed in Covington.

And for the success' of the Lions Club parade on Mardi Gras Day Wagner also put in many hours of labor for he was a Lion through and through.

The Lions Club

"The Lions Club was his life," said Mrs. Wagner "It's probably the biggest service club in the world,  and he was devoted full time. I remember about 15 years ago when the club started to go down, Oliver worked night and day calling people and getting new members. I think the Lions was one of his great loves. He must have helped many, many people.

"I never saw any man in my life who worked the way he did," said Mrs. Wagner. "He loved children and would do anything for them- teenagers and little ones. I never saw a man devote so much of his life to others, but then, there's no one like your spouse." 

Wagner's charitable and community oriented energies were not offered solely during ,Mardi Gras, according to those that have known him. But Carnival was, and remains, special to him.

Medical Issues

A massive stroke and other medical maladies have left the once robust and active man unable to take part as he has, so joyfully and unselfishly, in the past. And the memories of those days and those parades, for him, are tearfully bittersweet.

Last week he reigned, in splendor, as the king of the Krewe of Forest Manor Nursing Home. His attire was grand and his bearing royal. It was a great honor. But there can be no doubt, as one look into his sad eyes gives testimony afterwards, that the king, in all his glory, would give a thousand kingdoms for just one more season as a handsome young duke on horseback.

Published February 21, 1985, in the St. Tammany Farmer

At left, Julie and Bob Sander, Dorothy Bachemin, Martin Bachemin, David Pearce, Carolyn Talley Pearce, Evelyn Talley, T.B. "Red" Talley, Louis Wagner, Jackie Wagner, Yvonne Haik Wagner and Oliver Wagner at right.

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