Skip Wagner’s big cowboy hat was another popular segment of his many shows in Three Lakes. —STAFF PHOTO
Skip Wagner’s big cowboy hat was another popular segment of his many shows in Three Lakes. —STAFF PHOTO
Three Lakes resident Fritz (Arthur Frederick) Hasler has just published a new book: “The Skip Wagner Story.”

The book is a photographic and narrative retrospective of Wagner, his life, his bands and his friends. 

Through a yearlong in-depth research effort, photographs and interviews of Wagner’s life and career have been chosen from a wealth of information collected from Wagner, his partner Daisy, his former band members, friends, the Vilas County News-Review and historical sources.

The book can be purchased now by searching for the title “The Skip Wagner Story.” The large 8.5-by-11-inch color softcover, 118-page version with nearly 150 photographs is $20 and the digital Kindle version is $9. The Kindle version can be read on any computer or large computer tablet.

The book will also be available in Three Lakes this summer at stores, the Three Lakes Historical Society, Demmer Library and the Three Lakes Center for the Arts.

What’s in the book?

Skip Wagner was an amazing showman with incredible musical, comedic and artistic abilities. He played at least 24 musical instruments capped by his unbelievable skill at playing two trumpets simultaneously in harmony. He played them all very well. 

Wagner learned to play the instruments as a child, in high school, in an Army band and throughout his career. He never stopped adding to and tuning his shows with new musical numbers, comic routines, jokes, costumes and props.

He was also constantly improving the interaction with his band members and showing off their artistic talents. The stories, music and comedy were all woven together in a seamless manner. At 86, one can still see the engaging personality that has made him so successful over the years.

Wagner retired from regular nightly performances in 1999 and in 2000 moved permanently from Milwaukee to Three Lakes, where he had started performing during the summer in 1964, continuing until his retirement. 

In 2014, his ex-wife, and now partner, Daisy, retired from her job in Milwaukee and joined him. Their private “Wagner Museum” in Three Lakes showcases Wagner’s artistic and craftsman skills with numerous framed photographs, his musical instruments, stained-glass windows and lamps, drawings, custom made models and even a suit of armor made from scratch by Wagner.

He formed his first band when he was 11 and was still organizing bands 65 years later when he was 76.

The regular Skip Wagner Band in numerous incarnations played all over Wisconsin, but most frequently in Milwaukee in the winters and in Three Lakes in the summers. The regular Skip Wagner Band had a 35-year run in Three Lakes ending in 1999. The band often performed three sets each night seven days per week.

In 1966 Skip and his first wife, Mary Ellen, accompanied their six-year-old daughter, Lori Ann, the National March of Dimes Poster Girl, on an 80,000-mile tour of the U.S. visiting every state and countless celebrities and politicians, including President Lyndon Johnson. Lori Ann died from spina bifida at age 14.

Wagner had a short 1966 Las Vegas run with the Keith Phillips Six and could have had a Las Vegas career, except for his commitment to Lori.

Wagner the artist, sign maker and craftsman has left his mark on Three Lakes with the outdoor historical mural on the wall of the Black Forest Restaurant as well as many signs for local businesses.

The book is a photographic biography of Wagner’s career with photos chosen from his personal photos, the Three Lakes Historical Society, his Oneida Village basement mural, Jennifer West, the Vilas County News-Review, former band members and friends, as well as numerous photos recently taken by the author in the Wagner home museum, of Wagner’s outdoor Black Forest mural, the Historical Society Wagner Exhibit and of his performances. 

The photos are integrated with narratives given by Wagner, Daisy, Gay Scheffen, former band members and the author.

Skip Wagner is a legend in Three Lakes. Through interviews and pictures, this book will help many recapture their memories. It records an era in America that has disappeared but is not in any way forgotten in the lives of those who were lucky enough to know, see and perform with Skip Wagner.