October 23, 2021

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The Education Specialists

Ray Hagar: Ascuaga a visionary, clever gaming pioneer with some excellent strategies

Nevada gaming icon John Ascuaga died Monday, June 28, 2021, at the age of 96.

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For far more, pay a visit to Nevada Newsmakers.
I am guessing it have to have been 1958 or 1959 when I first fulfilled “Johnny” Ascuaga.
This was when the Nugget was across the road from in which it is now. It was a 60-seat restaurant with some slot machines.
Ascuaga, in his early 30s, ran the spot, but it was owned by yet another Nevada gaming legend, Dick Graves.
I was just a minimal kid, 5 or 6. My Mother had brought my brother and me to the Nugget in downtown Sparks for supper. It was a extremely preferred spot. Ascuaga would make the rounds and greet men and women in the cafe. He was personable. All people appreciated him: quick in stature but a huge temperament.
He allow us phone him “Johnny” and carried a walkie-talkie on his hip. He would put it up to my ear and enable me chat into it. I was thrilled. Every time we arrived in, he permit me discuss into his walkie-talkie.
The most desirable issue on the menu for me this one time was the “Shrimp Boat” – 5 parts of fried shrimp caught on a adhere to look like a sail. The plate it arrived on seemed like a boat, far too.
I requested it, to my brother’s chagrin. I preferred to enjoy with it, not take in it. So I ran into difficulty with Mom.
“Johnny” saved the working day. He experienced the waitress bring me an “Terrible Awful” hamburger as a substitute. My Mother could not say no to his generosity and failed to want to smack me in general public. It was mouth watering. The scolding I bought when we obtained residence was not so enjoyment.
A lot more than 40 many years later, I was in Ascuaga’s office environment as the gaming/tourism reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal. I advised him the “Shrimp Boat” story. He quickly grabbed pen and paper, scribbled “Shrimp Boat” on the notepad and claimed, “Fantastic thought! Probably we should to provide that back again.”
Ascuaga, at his essence, was an concept gentleman. And in his time managing just one of the fantastic resorts in Nevada, he experienced a lot.
Nonetheless, not all of them were being very good. 1 angered my Grandma Hagar.
If I recall properly, it was the mid 1960s. Johnny instructed changing the title of Sparks to East Reno, my grandma informed me. Reno was in a Golden Age as a vacation spot-resort metropolis back again then, back again in advance of tribal gaming. People today who noticed advertising acknowledged “Reno” but not “Sparks.”
Sparks citizens were an independent lot and no person required to live in a position identified as “East Reno.”
Ascuaga, on the other hand, discovered a way to block the blowback and placate the populace.
In advertising and marketing, he just referred to the Nugget as “the Reno area’s finest’ resort.” In other ads, the place he determined the resort’s location as Sparks, he set East Reno in parenthesis.
Other ideas, while, blossomed into significant situations. His “Nugget Rib Cook dinner-off” turned a largest barbecue event in the nation, attracting 300,000 people today above 4 days and offering out lodge rooms throughout the location on Labor Day weekend. In 2004, 156,000 lbs . of pork ribs were being eaten.
Ascuaga was also instrumental in forming the grand-daddy of all Northern Nevada exclusive activities, “Sizzling August Nights.” But the rib cook-off was his newborn.
An additional fantastic Ascuaga strategy was the Nugget scholarship plan. It commenced in 1956, when it awarded deserving students $1,000 for college. That was a large amount of money 65 yrs back. The application expanded to contain pupils from across Northern Nevada. The pictures of the scholarship winners had been hung on a wall in the Nugget. My Mom said she’d be proud if I ever received just one but, alas, on that level, sorry Mother.
By 2005, the 50-year anniversary of the Nugget, additional than 500 college students experienced earned Nugget scholarships. I’m guaranteed Ascuaga’s generosity will constantly be remembered by them. What a good soar-commence individuals scholarships were to so quite a few younger Nevadans.
An additional illustration of Ascuaga’s showmanship was the “Golden Rooster,” a 15-pound, 18 carat solid-gold sculpture of a rooster that initially was at the entrance of the Golden Rooster Home, a Nugget restaurant specializing in fried chicken.
First produced in 1958, the rooster was later confiscated by the U.S. Treasury, citing a regulation that barred citizens from possessing far more than 50 ounces of gold in their possession, until it was a operate of artwork. After quite a few months, the rooster was returned after a jury demo deemed the rooster was, certainly, art. The confiscation and subsequent trial was a publicity boon for the Nugget.
And let us not fail to remember the “House Sweet Home Sweepstakes” where Ascuaga per year raffled off a sweet 2,000-sq.-foot property in the Reno-Sparks area. The opportunity at residence possession would web pretty much 40,000 raffle entrees annually. The home raffled absent in a single calendar year in the early 2000s was detailed for $165,000.
Wonder what it’s worthy of nowadays?
Ascuaga originally acquired the Nugget from Graves in 1960. Although Ascuaga’s Nugget manufactured the Dreadful Awful well-known, it was Graves who had imported the famed burger to Northern Nevada from Idaho. Graves, Ascuaga’s mentor, also established “The Nugget” in downtown Reno and Carson Metropolis.
The Sparks Nugget’s offering price in 1960 was a noted $3.75 million. Graves reportedly explained to Ascuaga, “Fork out me when you can.”
It took Ascuaga 7 decades to pay the financial debt, in a deal that gave him 12 many years, according to released stories.
Soon after he acquired the Nugget from Graves, Ascuaga built his iconic mega-resort across the street, beginning in 1961. The aged Nugget grew to become “Trader Dick’s,” a cafe with a Polynesian topic that stayed there until eventually 1973, when it was included into the principal vacation resort creating.
Element of 1961 enlargement was the construction of “The Circus Home,” where Ascuaga introduced in “Ed Sullivan Clearly show”-caliber acts and entertainers. It was very an event for this small child to go to a meal show with my spouse and children and see performers this sort of Purple Skelton or Rowan & Martin, definite A-listers of the 1960s.
When our Bishop Manogue Significant soccer crew gained the state championship in 1970, Ascuaga taken care of all of us, which include head Coach Chris Ault, to a dinner exhibit in the Circus Area. “Mickey Finn,” a husband-wife crew with a Dixieland jazz and comedy schedule, place on the display. They ended up very common back again then, having their possess Tv set exhibit and headliner gigs at Caesars Palace.
The most effective aspect of each individual demonstrate – and another one of Ascuaga’s fantastic thoughts – were being the Nugget’s preforming elephants. To start with came Bertha, then Tina and lastly Angel. They turned synonymous with the Nugget, appeared on countrywide Tv and produced their own pursuing. People stayed at the Nugget just to see the elephants, who had their very own house and swimming pool on the Nugget residence.
All the young ones liked the elephants. When I was in 2nd or third grade at St. Thomas Faculty in downtown Reno, Bertha paid out a pay a visit to to the school’s all-objective room. It was remarkable to get an elephant in there. We received to pet her. Some young children fed her peanuts. Very first and only time I at any time touched an elephant.
Sometimes, you would find the Nugget headliners at Sunday mass at Immaculate Conception Church on Pyramid Way in Sparks. When, my aunt practically fainted when she saw Donald O’Connor using communion. (Starred in all the “Francis the Speaking Mule” motion pictures. Maybe ideal known for “Singin’ in the Rain”).
Immaculate Conception was also Ascuaga’s church back again then. He’d be there each individual Sunday, family in tow. He was a man of faith and was good to The Church.
Via the Ascuaga a long time, the Nugget was regarded for its tasty food stuff in dining establishments like the Golden Rooster Area, Oyster Bar, Pancake Parlor and Spherical Dwelling steak property. The 5-piece fried rooster evening meal with mashed ‘taters and place gravy was my favored as a escalating boy.
The Nugget’s food was served for a honest price tag. The foods and its pricing grew to become the resort’s top rated attraction and the principal rationale why the Nugget intended so much to the functioning men and women and railroaders who lived in Sparks 50 several years in the past.
The Nugget had a national status but it was also the top locals’ on line casino. When families went there to eat, mothers and fathers in some cases needed to have a consume or gamble prior to dinner – or even though we waited for an open table – the young ones went to the Children’s Theater. I noticed “Mighty Joe Younger” and the unique “King Kong” there.
My tale is not special. Hundreds, maybe hundreds of children who grew up in Sparks, also have fond memories of Mr. Ascuaga, the Nugget and how they impacted their lives.
Many mourn his new passing, still his time on Earth was very well lived. I cannot consider of anyone who has experienced a even larger job in the record of Sparks. Love to see a school named for him and his statue erected at City Hall or on Victorian Sq..
Ray Hagar, born in Reno and elevated in Sparks, is a journalist who labored at the Reno Gazette-Journal for quite a few decades in advance of retiring in 2016. He proceeds to perform element-time for Nevada Newsmakers and has labored with Sam Shad on Newsmakers considering that 2003.