Seven hundred eighty-nine. That’s exactly how many autographs from world-class skiers Dick Wagner has hanging on the walls of his Harbor Springs home. And that’s not counting the 1,500 other pieces of memorabilia (that’s an estimate) that Wagner donated to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan in 2002. Recently, we got the U.S. Ski Team’s number-one fan to share some stories behind his epic archive.
How did this collection get started?
Well, I actually grew up in Indiana, and I had nothing to do with skiing. That didn’t come until after high school, when I moved to Colorado just for the heck of it. I started working at a ski area; I got paid about a buck an hour, but you got free skiing one day a week. After that, I joined the Army, and I was over in Germany at the time of the ’64 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. That’s where I probably picked up my first collectible piece: It was some Innsbruck pins and a silk scarf that I still have hanging in my basement.
So you held onto those, but we heard you donated a ton of your stuff to the ski hall of fame.
Yeah, it was a huge collection. But it had kind of outgrown my “ski room,” and the only place around that wanted anything to do with it was the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame up in Ishpeming. When they came to get it, it took four people three days to pack it all up. There were 45 pairs of old wooden skis, figurines, uniforms, racing bibs, posters from the 1930s, autographs, photographs—just about anything you can imagine that has to do with skiing. I’d go to auctions and antique shops, and I’d stop by and see what they’d had. A lot of the autographs and photos I collected or took myself. I volunteered for the 2002 Olympics out in Park City, and I was on the men’s downhill course crew—that was 11 days of the hardest work I’ve done in my life. But you’re right there, and I started meeting people like Bode Miller, Marco Sullivan, and others on the U.S. Ski Team. And the collection of signatures and photos just grew from there.
It sounds like you still have a few mementos that you’re keeping close.
Right now, here at the house, I mostly have a lot of autographed pictures. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of running out of room on my walls. And to put up something new, I have to take something else down. It’s hard to do that because it all means something. But that’s why I donated so much of it to the hall of fame. They don’t get the kind of financial support that some of the other big halls of fame do. But it’s the only national hall of fame we have in Michigan. And most people don’t even know it’s there.