Rudolf “Rudy” Wagner, the longtime owner of Wagner’s European Bakery on Capitol Way in Olympia, died last week. He was 77.
Generations looked forward to Wagner’s pies and fruitcakes at the holidays and to his made-from-scratch doughnuts and elaborately decorated cakes. Todd Wagner, who runs the bakery now, said his dad could decorate a dozen wedding cakes in a day, staying up all night to finish and icing his hand between cakes.
“I’m not doing it for the money per se,” Wagner said in a 2003 profile in The Olympian. “I’m doing it because I had a gentleman say, ‘You made my parents’ anniversary cake and my wedding cake; now I want you to do my kid’s wedding cake.’”
Wagner was born in Germany and was 6 years old when allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camp near his hometown of Dachau. He arrived in Olympia with his parents when he was 17 and got a job cleaning in a bakery, then moved up to manager.
He learned on the job and opened his own bakery in 1963.
“I want it to be right,” Wagner told The Olympian 35 years later. “It’s my name over the door.”
Todd Wagner said his dad only stepped back from the bakery two years ago after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Tom Hinchcliffe got to know Wagner when they were working at different bakeries in Olympia. Hinchcliffe later went to work as a salesman selling flour, sugar and shortening, and Wagner was one of his customers.
“He was one of the good bakers. There’s not that many good bakers around,” said Hinchcliffe, who said he considered Wagner a mentor. “Some bakers… keep all their recipes to themselves, afraid someone will do it better than they did. But Rudy, he would help anyone.”
Outside the bakery, Wagner was active with the local Lions Club and helped start Gull Harbor Lutheran Church’s annual Oktoberfest, which ran for 37 years and ended in 2015.