Tag: Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center

Elephants in the Casino: John Ascuaga’s Nugget

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.

 

Basterretxea’s Orreaga Reinstalled at the New Library

Photo Nov 05, 9 02 51 AM (1)

Nestor Basterretxea’s Orreaga, recently installed in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge directly downstairs from the Center!

On February 11, 1985 a ceremony attended by over 200 persons was held in the foyer of UNR’s Getchell University Library that inaugurated the exhibition of two Basque sculptures now on display at the University of Nevada: Orreaga by Nestor Basterretxea (1924-2014) and Gaztelu by Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990).

Both sculptures were generously loaned to the University by Jose Ramon Cengotitabengoa and Gemma Egaña.

Basterretxea, right, at the dedication of the Monument to the Basque Sheepher in Rancho San Rafael. With Carmelo Urza

Basterretxea, right, at the dedication of the Monument to the Basque Sheepher in Rancho San Rafael. With Carmelo Urza

Basterretxea worked as a sculptor, painter, designer, and film producer. He had many individual exhibitions and participated in more than 150 collective ones, mainly in Europe. Eleven of his largest works adorn public buildings and urban spaces in the Basque Country, and his Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder, stands in Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. Mendiburu was a leading Basque sculptor dedicated to the expression of traditional Basque culture through the medium of contemporary visual arts. His works have been exhibited widely in Europe. Gaztelu–a massive wooden motif to depict both the diversity and continuity of the seven traditional Basque regions with a single taproot of Basque culture–was taken to Elko where it stayed until 2008 when, following Jose Ramon´s wishes,  it was brought back to UNR for the inauguration of the new Center for Basque Studies at the new library.

In the meantime Orreaga stayed in the old Getchell Library until is was transported to the Center, cleaned, and placed in a crate waiting for its re-installment at the new library. Orreaga is the Basque term for Roncesvalles (Spanish) or Ronceveaux (French), a town that commemorates the famous battle at the mountain pass in the Pyrenees during which Basques attacked the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne’s rearguard. The emperor’s commander Roland was killed, giving rise to the famous epic poem La chanson du Roland (The Song of Roland), one of the oldest works in French literature. The base piece of the sculpture is seated within a U-shaped wooden framework which represents the canyon in which Charlemagne’s imperial forces were attacked. The base piece depicts Charlemagne’s trapped army with its anguished cries rising to the heavens. From above, descending upon them is the bird of death in the form of the avenging Basque forces.

Orreaga is installed at the northern main entrance on the main floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, hanging from the wall next to the rotunda. It can be seen from the Center´s entrance floor as well, where Gaztelu is exhibited, thus establishing a dialogue between the two iconic pieces of two of the greatest postwar Basque artists.

Orreaga was officially installed during the November 3rd ceremony to rename the Center as the William A. Douglas Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Library collection as the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.