New Zealand native Susan Evelyn Bishop Wagner is credited with starting the “blossom festival” in 1919.
Susan was born Nov. 1, 1875, in Hakaru, New Zealand. It was during a visit to the U.S. that she met her first husband, Charles J. Callahan. They married in New Zealand in 1900 and a year later moved to San Francisco. Callahan died several years later.
Susan married Ernst Wagner, a native of Germany, in New Zealand in 1913 and they settled in the Wenatchee area. Wagner became well known as the district’s first apple shipper. Ernst and “Suzy” planted orchards just north of Swakane Canyon near Entiat, at a place they called Wagnersburg. Susan was also trained as a nurse.
But in 1919, everything was about to change. Although America was her home, Susan had a great love for her native land. It was said she had fond memories of the festivals of her childhood.
Why not have a festival to celebrate the importance of the Wenatchee area’s apple industry? Susan’s idea gained momentum and plans for the first festival were underway.
In early 1920, members of the Ladies’ Musical Club followed through with Susan’s idea. The suggestion met with unanimous approval and members of the Wenatchee Commercial Club (later the Chamber of Commerce) helped sponsor “Blossom Day,” held that year on May 7. It was referred to as “the first celebration” of what was planned to become an annual event.
The festival was “a chance to honor those who have kept her dreams and ideas alive for the past 100 years,” Wright said. “We hope that we have terrific people [like the current people] that will keep the festival going for another 100 years.”
The two cousins' time in Wenatchee also had a more personal meaning. Farnham visited a neighborhood along Okanogan Avenue, where Ernst Wagner built several houses and where his great-grandmother once lived. He and Wright also visited Susan’s gravesite at the Wenatchee City Cemetery. She died on Sept. 5, 1953, at the age of 77.
“I am sure that Granny Sue is up there somewhere, proud to see that 100 years of her idea is now the grand festival that it is today,” Wright said.
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