William Wagoner, a Mount Airy local, will be 100 years old on January 16. The centenarian was born and raised in Surry County and grew up on Durham Street.
When he was a child, Wagoner played with homemade toys such as tom-walkers (stilts) or sacks filled with pinto beans. Money was tight during his growing up years. His father couldn’t afford to purchase him a bike, so he traveled via roller skates.
One memory from his childhood, which still makes him laugh, took place at his grandfather’s funeral. As he and his father were leaving, six-year-old Wagoner asked his father why quarters were resting over his grandfather’s eyes. His father told him that “one was to get him [his grandfather] over the River Jordan and one was to get him over the pearly gates.”
Wagoner tugged on his father’s coat, then worriedly explained to him that his grandfather wouldn’t make it. He pulled a quarter from his pocket and confessed, “I got one of them quarters!”
The family home on Durham Street was within walking distance to Andy Griffith’s home, and Wagoner remembers Andy from those early days.
In 1942, Wagoner graduated from Franklin High School. He was on the school’s basketball team. “I was real good in basketball,” he said. After graduation, Wagoner enlisted in the military. He walked to the bus stop on Main Street and caught a bus to Raleigh, where he passed the entrance examination. He attended basic training in Maryland.
During his time as an Airman 2nd Class in the U.S. Naval Air Force, Wagoner was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Pasco, Washington; and Bunker Hill, Indiana.
“It was fun, in a way,” he said of his time in service. “Sometimes it was scary.” For instance, the parachute riggers handed him a parachute and said, “If it doesn’t work, bring it back.”
After Wagoner was honorably discharged from Jacksonville Naval Air Station, he explored a variety of careers. He worked in a furniture factory and then a grocery store, he operated a service station, and finally served as an electrical supervisor for Pike Electric for over 20 years.
During his job as an electrical supervisor, he traveled to cities such as Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia.
After retiring at age 62, Wagoner and his wife, Geraldine, liked to travel. Their travels took them to places such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Niagara Falls, Nova Scotia, Montana, and Universal Studios in California.
One fond memory from his travels occurred at Universal Studios. Volunteers were requested from the audience. Wagoner raised his hand and was selected for the role. He was directed backstage and instructed to put on a model spacesuit. The stagehands then hoisted him 25 feet into the air by a cable on the set.
Wagoner’s wife passed away in 2021. They were married for 74 years. He is currently a resident at Twelve Oaks, an assisted living facility. He enjoys walking and exercising, activities in which he participates often. “I’m still in good shape,” he said. “My mental capacity is just as good as when I was six years old.”
Wagoner said he has had numerous relatives live to and past their 100s, but he isn’t sure if there’s a specific cause or habit that can be attributed to longevity.
“As for longevity, I’ve no idea,” he said. “I’ve just tried to be good to people all my life.”
Wagoner will celebrate his 100th birthday at Chick-fil-A in Mount Airy on January 16, 2024, with his friends and family.