For those of you in the Reno area, you should check out the Special Collections exhibit “Elephants in the Casino: John Ascuaga’s Nugget” on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, open until July 28. As they put it:

Explore the history and legacy of John Ascuaga’s Nugget through the decades. View the Nugget’s transformation beginning with Dick Graves’ modest 1955 Sparks coffee shop, to the expanded casino-resort built and run by Ascuaga and his family for more than 50 years. The exhibit highlight materials from the newly available John Ascuaga’s Nugget Records.

 

John Ascuaga was born in Idaho to Jose, from Orozko, and Maria. His father had immigrated in 1914, followed by his wife. John and his twin sister Rose followed the older siblings Carmen and Frank. John entered the army and then received his Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Idaho and then an additional degree in hotel and restaurant management from Washington State University.

John Ascuaga

After graduating from college, he moved to Sparks. It was at the Nugget’s Steak House that John met Rose Ardans, his future wife. They purchased and ran the Nugget Hotel and Casino from 1960 onward, along with their children. John had initially worked for Dick Graves in Idaho and followed him to Nevada. When Graves hoped to retire, John, at 34 years old, purchased the Nugget for $3,775,000, paying off the debt in seven years.  The Ascuagas truly made their way from the bottom up.

 

Michonne Ascuaga

Michonne R. Ascuaga, prominent member of Northern Nevada gaming family

Another prominent Ascuaga is Michonne, John’s daughter. She originally started working at age 13 as a front-desk clerk and continued to work her way up the family business, in the cage and credit arena as well as in marketing and sales for the casino, before becoming CEO in 1997–and only the second woman to run a major resort in Nevada–until its sale to Global Gaming & Hospitality in 2013. Together with her brother, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ascuaga, she subsequently also served in an advisory role after the Nugget’s sale.

She is a graduate of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, and earned an MBA degree from Stanford University. She has served on several boards, including the Santa Clara University Board of Regents, the Sierra Arts Foundation, the Nevada Women’s Fund, and the Forum for a Common Agenda, as well as the  Washoe K-12 Education Foundation.  She has also been chair of our Advisory Board since 2009.

In her own words, “When you live in a place and realize you’re going to live in a place for the rest of your life, you want to see things prosper and improve . . . When I see where I can help, I get involved” (quoted in “Women we love” by Carli Cutchin, Deidre Pike, and Adrienne Rice, for the Reno News & Review).

For more on John Ascuaga, see: Voices from Basque America and “Hard Work and Family Key to John Ascuaga’s Nugget” by Colleen Schreiber.