The inspiring ways of Florence B. Wager were lovingly recounted Sunday as 300 people celebrated the life of the woman affectionately known as “Flossie.”
Wager, a tireless advocate for parks, trails, greenways and the Vancouver Symphony, died Aug. 22 at 84. She was a former Clark County First Citizen.
Scores of activists and community leaders who worked with Wager were at the Jane Weber Evergreen Arboretum on Southeast Evergreen Highway. They planted tulip bulbs, praised the many accomplishments of Wager and dined together. Wine, which Wager loved, was served.
Outdoor tables each had vases of dahlias, and the dais was under a spreading silk tree.
The rushing water of Stenger Creek added to the celebration, with the Columbia River as a backdrop.
Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell spoke on behalf of his mother, Shirlee Campbell, who could not make the celebration because of health reasons. She befriended Wager as a third-grader in 1937.
Seems Wager crashed her bike and young Shirlee brought her to the house at 32nd and F streets for lemonade.
“They proceeded to sit on the porch swing for two hours to begin a friendship that endured the years until Flossie’s passing,” Campbell said.
Both graduated from Vancouver High School, then became sorority sisters at Washington State University’s Alpha Chi Omega.
Campbell read from a card that Flossie sent to Shirlee:
“To my dearest buddy: It has been a long trip together — from sitting in the back of the Essex to sitting in the top of the Royal Anne cherry tree, to digging clams on famous trips to … all the way. With love to my other sister. Floss.”
Wager was an extraordinary woman, speakers said.
Jack Wager said his household was abuzz in anticipation if Aunt Flossie was visiting.
“She really knew how to pick a gift,” Wager said of his aunt: a lapel flower that shot water; fake vomit, “and my personal favorite, a whoopee cushion.”
R.J. Anderton, a friend for 55 years, said, “She was always a barrel of fun.”
He first knew her when she was working in San Francisco, where she became executive director of the San Francisco Symphony Foundation.
He said Wager was a marvel with volunteers. She would say, “We can do this together. … She was a great leader behind you. She fought like hell to keep her volunteers recognized.”
Jean Hix of the Vancouver Symphony board, said, “Lucky San Francisco, lucky us” of Wager’s work for the local symphony.
Symphony musicians Suzanne Rague (cello), George Oh (violin) and Michael Liu (keyboard) provided selections. They were there “because of Flossie. She was very generous to the symphony,” Liu said.
Roy Heikkala, co-chairman with Wager on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said Wager would give you “a kind word or a kick in the butt, if you needed it.” But her intentions were always good.
A fundraising letter that Wager sent soon after the Parks Foundation of Clark County was established in 1999, included this: “Is there a sweeter sound than children playing in a park? … Just enjoying being alive.”
Speaking for parks employees, Vicki Vanneman said, “We were so enriched by our relationship with Florence.”
Wager lived in many worlds: she also was an advocate for libraries, neighborhoods and served on the county’s railroad advisory board.
Celebration organizer Kelly Punteney said a rock bench has been installed at the arboretum in memory of Wager. It will be inscribed with these words from Wager: “The Old Evergreen Highway Trail is a perfect example of the good things that can happen when everyone joins together to make a vision come true.”
Some folks wore T-shirts that read Flossie in blue ink backed by a green heart on the front. On the back it read, “Save Vancouver Parks — vote yes.”