If you stood by the River Nith in 1960, you would have seen a carefree teenager hurtling down the water in a speedboat he built. Don Wagler loved the water. He loved fishing, water skiing and fast boats, at least until that fateful day when he crashed and smashed his leg.
Don was smart, ambitious, and just wanted to soar, even though it would take a few years for him to find his place, to become an entrepreneur, community leader, world traveler and guy who liked to challenge himself.
âHe really tried to do things differently,â said friend David Seyler, recounting Don’s unique barbecue recipes, how he brought him to the joys of sipping scotch and shelling oysters.
âHe was a very generous person, with his time, energy and resources,â said David, who noted that his friend had an ability to mentor, to share knowledge with everyone around him.
Don was born on December 7, 1941 – the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – in New Hamburg, the only boy in a family of three. His father, Ivan Wagler, was an enterprising man, running many businesses, including a garage where Don worked throughout his youth.
Family tradition says that Don wanted to finish high school, but Ivan had other ideas: threatening to sell the whole place if his son didn’t join the business. Don didn’t make it past the 9th grade before accepting his father’s wishes. Good thing too because life had an unexpected bonus ahead, the beautiful Rose Holtzhauer. Rose lived in Roseville and knew Don but hadn’t really met him until she took her car to the garage for repair. The still gentleman Don offered to drive her home in his chic white convertible.
âHe was such a great guy,â said Rose, who remembers coming to her house every Friday after working until 9pm, clean and tidy despite working all day in the store. Rose’s widowed mother adored her and Don always tried to help with any work that needed to be done.
They married on June 6, 1964 and had two sons, Scott and Steve.
The same year they married, Don left his father’s garage to work at Prudential Insurance in Kitchener, becoming the company’s youngest agent and, later, its youngest sales manager.
Don was in his element, and as a top seller he won numerous trips to international conventions. Rose said the company would send Don to malfunctioning branches as well, and in no time, he would turn them around. His work with Prudential led to several promotions, and after a decade they offered him a job as a trainer, which he turned down. The job would require travel from coast to coast, with long trips away from home. Don had other ideas.
âHe had always had an eye on Josslin Insurance,â Rose said.
The company, started in 1880 in New Hamburg, had a rich history. After much discussion with the owner, JB Josslin, the men struck a deal and in 1975 Don took over, keeping the name of the company as it had a great reputation.
Don would grow the company from four to 90 employees, working in eight offices. Rose joined the firm as a broker. Don had a reputation for keeping everything customer-oriented. With the arrival of the modern age of technology, Don embraced some aspects while rejecting others.
City Councilor Cheryl Gordijk served on the New Hamburg Board of Trade with Don and remembers her dedication to customer service. âDon was adamant that he never had an answering machine: it was all personal,â she said. âThey were proud of it. “
Scott added, âHe’s never been stuck in the past; he bought a computer in 1980. It was the size of a kitchen island.
When the two sons joined the company in 1991, Scott said, âwe were part of the upgrade,â meaning they introduced newer technology. But not an answering machine.
Cheryl said Don’s caring for his clients extends to the whole community. “They (the company) had a connection to the community and were proud to support the community.”
âWe never forgot where we came from,â Scott said, adding that the two sons had learned valuable lessons from their father.
“He was a man with a lot of integrity: he was a very values-oriented individual.”
Don was also a man of many talents. He was a self-taught carpenter and multi-instrumental musician, performing in the New Hamburg Concert Band for almost 60 years.
Don also loved to explore and with Rose and her friends he traveled to Europe, South America, Greenland, Egypt, Greece and even climbed Machu Picchu in Peru.
Over the past 15 years, Don’s health has deteriorated. He suffered from bladder and prostate cancer, kidney failure and heart problems.
The man who did not want to give up died on March 21, 2020.