From farm goods to typewriters to vacuum cleaners, Carl Wagener was a natural when it came to sales, but beyond the products he was a master of peddling goodwill and good cheer.
"Cully," as he was widely known, developed a huge following as proprietor of the Midway Typewriter Exchange in St. Paul, where legions of business owners and high school and college students came to rent and buy typewriters and get them fixed.
"It was the place to go," said Jim Fastner, who in the 1980s worked as service manager in the small shop on Snelling Avenue. "He knew the business and it did really well. He was a go-getter, always full of gusto."
Ed Molitor was a regular at the shop. Molitor was an ad salesman for Sun Newspapers when he met Wagener in the 1970s. By far, Molitor said, his weekly visit with Wagener was his favorite appointment.
"I always enjoyed his company," Molitor said. "He was always a character. Everybody liked him."
Wagener died April 4 at New Perspective Senior Living in Roseville. He was 103.
Wagener was born in 1914 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He was 4 when his family moved to St. Paul. Prairie grass grew along University Avenue and outdoor plumbing was the norm. The family eventually settled on a farm in what is now the Battle Creek neighborhood. He learned his marketplace skills as a preteen, selling eggs and other goods from the farm at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
The Great Depression forced him out of school and into the workforce at age 16. He served as an apprentice in his older brother's Smith-Corona typewriter dealership.
"That attracted him to sales," said his son, Kurt, of Hudson, Wis.
He opened the Midway Typewriter Exchange in the 1940s after serving in the Army during World War II. Wagener was an adept salesman, and dealers rewarded him with all-expense paid trips to exotic places around the world.
"He developed a strong work ethic at a young age," Kurt Wagener said. "He was an honest and intelligent person. He enjoyed people."
He ran the shop for nearly 30 years before his son took it over. But retirement didn't befit Cully. He went back to work at age 69, going door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners. When he gave that up at age 80, he became a Walmart greeter.
"It was the kind of work I had done (and enjoyed) all my life," Carl Wagener wrote in a Dear Abby column published on Oct. 23, 1995, in response to a reader who mentioned he was retired but not idle. "That sounded like my life. I meet a lot of nice people, keep in contact with the outside world and do something that makes me feel wanted."
Fastner recalled that Cully had only one clock in his house, on the stove. Yet, he always managed to be places on time.
That included the 40 years of meetings he attended as a member of the Midway Lions Club and the Osman Shriners Temple. He also was a longtime member of the National Office Machine Dealers Association. In later years he volunteered at hospitals "to take care of the old people," Molitor said.
"He was dancing at his 100th birthday," Kurt Wagener said. "He lived for the moment. He liked to keep busy. He had an incredible 100 years."
Besides his son, Wagener is survived by a daughter, JoAnn Oliver of Shoreview.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 1979 Old Hudson Road, St. Paul. Visitation will be one hour before services.