Iola Wagner, 89, meal program volunteer


Iola Wagner, whose boundless energy and humor as a volunteer for a seniors' meal program in Towson earned her the nickname "The Sunshine Lady," died Wednesday of pneumonia at Keswick Multi-Care Center in Baltimore.

Mrs. Wagner, 89, lived in TABCO Towers in Towson, where she volunteered for the county-sponsored "Eating Together Program" for seniors several times a week from 1976 to 1990.

"She liked taking care of others because she wouldn't have time to think about her own illnesses," said her daughter, Shirley Carl of Towson. "She just liked always being on the go."

Friends said although Mrs. Wagner was eligible to be served by program workers, she shunned their assistance and waited on the senior residents. She took food to residents confined to their apartments.

"She acted more like a 30-year-old than a 70-year-old," said Sarah Wynsted, who worked with the program for many years. "She was more than agile for someone her age. She made everyone feel good. She set a good example for older people."

Mrs. Wagner had a sense of humor and made people laugh. She dressed as Raggedy Ann each year for Halloween for the seniors.

A Baltimore native, the former Iola Gootee married Frederick Wagner in the 1920s and worked for many years as a waitress at the old Hyler's Restaurant on Howard Street downtown, in what was then the theatrical district near the Hippodrome Theatre. Mr. Wagner died in 1962.

She met numerous celebrities at the restaurant, including Red Skelton and Gene Autry. One of her favorite memories was meeting actress Jean Harlow at the diner.

To honor the actress, the restaurant staff was required to wear blond wigs. But Mrs. Wagner, an ardent movie fan, did not have to change her look -- her hair was bobbed and blond.

"She was just very happy and excited and thrilled to wait on her," Ms. Carl said. "She had followed her in the movies and was happy when she came in there."

After her husband died, Mrs. Wagner returned to working as a waitress, working in the Tea Room of the old Stewart's Department Store on York Road.

She retired in the late 1960s and wrote poetry and enjoyed cooking. One of her recipes for chicken pot pie was published in a church cookbook.

Mrs. Wagner enjoyed vacationing at Ocean City and Cape Cod, Mass.

Services were held Thursday.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Ron Wagner of Baltimore; another daughter, Bonnie Sybert of Hunt Valley; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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