Shannon Oral History Cover sheet
File #: 19
Place of Interview:29 Canterbury Lane, Lakeville, Ct.
Date: August 7, 2012
Summary of talk: Background of the Wagner-McNeil Insurance Company, family background. Mr. Shannon joined the company in 1971. Ralph Schwaikert bought out the McNeil sisters and then joined in partnership with Tom Wagner; number of branches, locations, staff, types of insurance sold, 2 Lakeville locations, partnership, retirement, civic duties-Bissell Fund, SVAS, church, Red Cross, SWASA, Lakeville Lake Association , Indian Mountain School, Director for the National Independent Insurance Agents of America, and his flexible work schedule to support his family.
This is Jean McMillen interviewing Mrs. Walter Shannon, Celeste Shannon, at her home 29 Canterbury Lane, Lakeville, Ct. Mrs. Shannon is going to talk about the history of the Wagner McNeil Insurance Company of which her husband was manager for several years. The date is August 7, 2012.
JM: What is your full name?
CS: My full name is Celeste Mayo Shannon.
JM: Where were you born?
CS: I was born in Waterbury, Ct.
JM: Your birthdate?
CS: Nov. 15, 1941
JM: What were your parents’ names?
CS: My parents’ names were Celinda Janet Wakely and Eliot Russell Mayo.
JM: Do you have siblings?
CS: I have one sister Celinda Eloise Mayo Packer.
JM: What was your education?
CS: A college education and I am an RN.
JM: How did you come to this area?
CS: My husband got fired from his job in Waterbury and couldn’t work within 50 miles of Waterbury, and this is actually 55 miles. We heard through Traveler’s Insurance Company that Tom Wagner might need some help here with the insurance company.
JM: What year did you come here?
CS: We came here in 1970.
JM: Who were the partners involved with the insurance company at that time?
CS: Insurance at that time was Tom Wagner, Ralph Schwaikert were the two principals in the insurance company because Ralph Schwaikert purchased the N.A. McNeil Company from the McNeil sisters because they wouldn’t sell to Tom Wagner. Tom and Ralph became partners.
JM: What year did your husband come into the insurance business here?
CS: Here in Lakeville 1970.
JM: What was his position at the time?
CS: His position was as the primary insurance agent there, and he managed the company, the whole Wagner-McNeil.
JM: Were there subsidiary branches at Wagner-McNeil in the ‘70’s?
JM: And they were where?
CS: There were branches (Walt is in background.)in Sharon, and in Millerton, New York. The Sharon agency kept its name as the Sharon Insurance Agency. The agency in Millerton kept its name as the Cole Agency.
JM: In the Lakeville office how many staff members were there?
CS: That I am not clear on.
JM: We said 9 the last time. (See article on Ethel Thrall who worked there. The article is in thrall folder and Shannon folder in history room.)
CS: I believe there were 9. Mabel Bauman was one of them Florence Miller, no Doris Miller was another one, and Constance Marcon, (Tina Marcon) and Judy McKernon was one of them. There were several more and I don’t recall everyone at the time.
JM: You’ve done a good job. What kind of insurance or did they specialize in a specific or everything?
CS: They actually sold everything but they were more property casualty agency.
JM: What is property casualty insurance?
CS: They sold car insurance, house insurance, business insurance; they did some health insurance related to business, and they did some life insurance when requested. They did farm insurance, but property casualty insurance refers to property of any kind.
JM: Did your husband become a partner in the firm?
CS: He did. I think that was in 1975 or 76. Tom Wagner sold stock in Wagner-McNeil and Walt finally did buy Tom out at tom’s request. He said that it was time for him to retire and asked Walt to buy the whole thing which he did. He took it over and ran it.
JM: Has the Lakeville insurance office always been at the location that we know it now? (corner of Holley St. and rt.44)?
CS: No, it used to be down in the Borden Building, across from the post office. Then in 1977 Walt purchased the old Salisbury bank building and moved the office up there because he felt that it was important to have the vaults available to store his records in.
JM: He bought that building in 1977?
CS: Yes when Salisbury Bank moved into the other location (corner of Bissell St. and Main Street).
JM: This is an aside, but we borrowed that building. My 6th grade class did a mystery bank robbery and we borrowed that building when it was empty to film our robbery because of the vault and everything was set up. Mr. Leubescher was most gracious to allow us to use the building.
CS: He was great.
JM: Obviously that was before 1977.
CS: Yep it had to be. Because Walt bought this building out of bankruptcy that the Meras were involved in, Kathy Mera and her husband ran a business out of there for a while.
JM: Oh I didn’t know that. Do you remember what the business was?
CS: It was like mobile mapping business.
JM: When did Walt retire from the insurance business?
CS: He retired in (Walt said, “Not Yet!”) 2009 after 50 years in the insurance business.
JM: My, that is a lot of clients!
CS: That was a lot of clients. Walt,”Yep.”
JM: You knew when to get out. What were some of his civic responsibilities?
JM: I know you said before they were too numerous to mention.
CS: The Bissell Fund, Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service, the Catholic church Red Cross-he was chapter chairman for the Red Cross ; he took over from Dave Batchelder.
CS: Oh yes, Salisbury Winter Sports he was in on the lake study association, he helped fund raise to bring in the first weed cutter,
JM: Indian Mountain?
CS: Oh, Indian Mountain. There were a couple of others that I can’t come up with at this time.
JM: And I don’t have it in my notes. You told me the last time I was here that he was a national speaker on insurance.
CS: He was a national director for the Independent Insurance Agents of America. He started out in Waterbury as just a member of the Connecticut Independent insurance Agents. He went on from there starting with the chairs and became President of the Connecticut Insurance Agents. He was speaking all over the country at that time. They asked him to stay on and be Director for the National Independent Insurance Agents of America which he did.
JM: That’s quite an honor.
CS: It was an honor.
JM: Well deserved. Is there anything else that you would like to add either to the history of the insurance company or your husband’s accomplishments?
CS: He was a great father.
JM: That is an excellent addition.
CS: One thing that the insurance business did for him was the time to support the children’s athletic activities and extra curriculum programs at school. He went to their plays, he went to choral groups, and he went to the kids’ games.
JM: Tell me about his unusual work schedule to allow this. You told me this before, but please tell it to me again.
CS: He would leave for work usually around 6 in the morning, he would come home and have breakfast with the family and then go back to work. He would come home for dinner and then return to work after dinner. So when the kids went to bed or were doing homework, he was at work, but if the kids had an afternoon soccer game or cross country meet or something, he would take the time off to go do that because he had put the time in otherwise.
JM: That is a wonderful accolade.
CS: We all enjoyed that flexibility that was really important to all of us.
JM: How great for the children to see their father.
CS: Yep that he was really interested and active in their young lives. He was pretty good otherwise. He was very honest also about the fact that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. People would stop him on the street with an insurance question, and he would answer to the best of his ability. He would then point out that he had Alzheimer’s and that they had better check his answer with the people in the office who were more active in the business.
JM: But he was a good primary source to go to. He always knew.
CS: Yep, he always knew. He always had a pretty good idea what the answer was going to be.
JM: Thank you very much.
Addendum: Celeste Shannon is doing this interview for her husband Walter who now has alzheimer’s disease and could not participate very much.