Remembering Our Better Angels

Expanded from the Sunday, 4-18-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
4-22-2004 Comstock Chronicle
Updated 6-23-2014

This newspaper has always held a strange charm for me. From the day in 1971 when I walked in to place a Big Nickel ad, it just felt like, well...home.

I haven't lived in these parts long enough to identify the pedigree of the atmosphere, but I believe a lot of it can be traced back to former owner and publisher Carl Shelly, who was born about the same time as the City of Sparks about a century ago.

I learned of his distinguished service in the Nevada State Assembly and on the Washoe County Commission years after I first met him. He never bragged about such things, or of having owned and published this newspaper for a decade. He contributed items on behalf of the Sparks Heritage Museum into his nineties.

Carl had the qualities we pine for in officeholders in this age of blow-dried PR spin and cosmetically enhanced media grins. I had the honor of working with Mr. Shelly when my advertising agency handled promotions for Greenbrae Shopping Center in the 1970s. (Anybody remember the weekend in 1973 when we built the motorcyle ramp? I bet longtime neighbors still do.)

Carl Shelly could calm cantankerous business owners and channel merchant meetings into a positive direction. He would speak in a calm, fatherly voice to dissenters, never patronizing and always enlightening them. From him, I learned to recognize the qualities of a true leader.

Shelly's Hardware, today owned by Bob Taylor, still survives in the same converted World War II era military hanger at the oldest center in Sparks. Taylor was general manager of Grant's Department Store at Greenbrae back in the 1970s. In today's era of the big-box superstore, Shelly's survives largely because of the enterprise's distinguished history of customer service. Need a new deadbolt for your door? Carl would loan you the tools to put it in and give you a little advice on how to do it if, like me, you were not mechanically inclined. The old place stands as a testament to hard work, but also as validation of a life well-lived and time well spent in nurturing the community and the state.

Therein lies Carl Shelly's legacy. I am proud to say that our paths once crossed and I am the richer for it. And so is the newspaper with Sparks in its name.

The Tribune has taken some major losses since I scrawled my first commentary more than three decades ago when it was still a weekly. We lost columnist and former editor E. Gorton "Covey" Covington in a Reno crosswalk a few years back. More recently, we lost columnist and community activist Orland Outland shortly before classified manager Elouise Richardson went down to the Big C.

I met book keeper Mary Hefling and adperson Betty Woodward back when the paper camped on Marietta Way before owner Don Woodward (no relation) relocated to the former Sparks post office. (People tried to mail parcels and buy stamps at the front desk for years afterward.)

We lost sweet Mary not long ago. Last Monday, dear Betty passed away at age 80 in Boise, Idaho. They shared a quality with Carl Shelly — in the 30 or so years I knew them, they never really aged. Maybe that's the hallmark of someone grounded in the knowledge of who she is.

Over much of that time, Betty and Mary put up with more than a bit of hassle from me — begging to get an ad into the paper well past deadline, sneaking into the building after hours to read a proof and generally making a nuisance of myself.

Looking back, I really wasn't doing business with a newspaper. I was dealing with the folks at home.

Sharon Asher

People like Betty and Mary are the reason a community's bloodstream keeps flowing. Sharon Asher never worked at the Trib, but would have fit right in. The longtime KTVN TV-2 traffic manager passed away at 57 at her Sparks home last December. Shy and smiling Sharon was equally at home putting up with obnoxious ad guys or schmoozing CBS execs in New York when the station — or us ad guys — needed something.

Sharon, like Betty Woodward, appreciated finding dark humor amid the dryness of advertising paperwork. Many was the time I'd order an ad for a mobile home dealer with "inverted technicolor silos" on the product line. Or "Teddy Bear Havas rolling deathtraps" for the erstwhile Subaru store.

I remember them all fondly, especially for laughing at my jokes, even when they weren't funny.

LOVELY LORRAINE MARTINO passed away last Sunday at age 55. The longtime office manager of Teamsters Union Local 533 fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. Born Lorraine Bellotti in Maspath, Queens, New York, she is survived by her former husband of 23 years Lou Martino, daughters Dorian and Adrian, all of Reno, and four grandchildren. A graveside memorial service will be held in the Caesars Gardens area of Mountain View Cemetery in northwest Reno tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. [UPDATE 6-23-2014: Lou Martino, 1947-2014]

Gene Sprye

STILL SPRYE. I recently found out that Gene Sprye passed away at age 80 in Las Vegas on Easter Sunday last year. His wife, Dottie, preceded him in 1990. Gene managed KOLO Radio in the 1970s when it reigned as the region's dominant station. Gene worked until retiring at age 78.

Sprye had a curious sense of timing. We once ended up on the same plane to Hawaii. Somewhere over the Pacific, the seatbelt light came on.

"Hold this for me," he said, handing me his drink as he sprinted to his seat. We immediately hit turbulence and I wore most of his Seven and Something on my clothes all the way to Honolulu. Some people thought it funny.

PHOTO FINISH. Legendary Reno race driver Merle Brennan's nephew contacted me a few weeks back. Alan Prentiss of Carson City found and restored his uncle's Genie MK 10B which Merle ran from 1967 through 1970.

He sent me photos of Merle driving it and the now-restored machine. He remembered the piece I wrote after Merle took his last checkered flag in 1995.

"When I found it in Camarillo, Calif., it was beyond a basket case," Prentiss says. "It took me four and a half years to finish the restoration. I ran it for the first time at Sears Point in September of 2002," he added.

I will link the photos to the web edition of this piece, included with my 1996 column about him. If you didn't know Merle, suffice it to say that he came within a cat's whisker of getting Bill Harrah to sponsor a Formula One team for him. He was that damn good.

Thanks for sharing this run through the chicane of amnesia lane.

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Copyright © 1982, 1996, 2004, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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