Former City Manager will be missed

Friday Dec. 21 was a sad day in River City for me. I opened the Nevada Appeal, and as I always do, I first check the obituaries to make sure my name isn't there, and then go on about my business. But today in the obits, I saw the name of my good old friend Hank Etchemendy.

I was hurt, angry and shocked. Hurt because I'd lost a good friend whom over the years I had taken for granted thinking he would always be around. Angry because he died from complications arising from something as ordinary as a broken leg and shocked because he wasn't that much older than I am.

In fact, Hank always looked the picture of health, never seeming to age like the rest of us. I used to tease him about having a portrait of himself stored away in his attic which, like Dorian Gray, got older while he didn't.

Suddenly my whole Carson City life flashed before my eyes because Hank is one of the first and most important men I met upon coming to town in April 1972. He was Carson City's manager with his little office in the basement of the old community college brick building on Carson Street. And his secretary, who was one of the classiest and most accommodating ladies I've ever met, was Shirley Rowan, now Shirley Clark. Little did I know that some years later Shirley would do me the honor of being my campaign manager when I ran for the Legislature.

My business with Hank had to do with the new Industrial Air-park which had recently opened out at the airport and only had three small factories at that time. I wanted to lease a couple of acres to build an R&D facility with the object of developing some high-tech products for future production.

But nothing was assured about the future of my venture because I could fail in my quest to develop something worth manufacturing, even though I'd had a successful track record in California. This meant that I didn't exactly fit the criteria for eligibility at the Air-park, but Hank went to bat for me with the city fathers and I was approved for a leasehold. That lease soon became TBI, which proved to be one of the more successful engineering and manufacturing businesses in the Air-park over the past 26 years.

What all this is leading up to is that Hank Etchemendy was one of the prime moving founders of the Carson City Industrial Air-park. I question whether it would even exist if it weren't for Hank. And to this day, I don't know how or where he came up with the money for infrastructure, but he did. The concept was brilliant! Since the city owned all of the property surrounding the airport, it decided to lease parcels for up to 60 years, at which time the buildings and improvements would become the property of Carson City. And then the city could either release the package to the occupants or sell to someone else. But the most important thing was, it gave younger, out-of-state companies the opportunity to own their own facilities because they didn't have to invest money buying property like they do today. It was THE magnet!

In a few short years, our Air-park brought in dozens of good little companies which grew, and collectively provided Carson City with the best balanced economy of any Nevada city. Yes, that includes Las Vegas and Reno which have little or no manufacturing in relation to their populations. Our Carson City economy is now a genuine tripod capable of standing on its own with each leg; tourism, state government and manufacturing all begin remarkably balanced. Thanks to Hank Etchemendy and our city fathers and mothers of that time, who had more vision than the rest of the state combined either before or since, we are as recession proof as a community of our size can possibly be.

Now, when we think of giants, we normally envision big, tall guys wearing goat roper hats, but there's more than one kind of giant, and Hank Etchemendy walked as tall as anybody ever has in our state. He was a quiet giant among Nevadans. And another thing, when Hank shook your hand on any kind of a deal or promise or agreement, you could go to the bank with it no matter what. His word was his bond.

I salute the memory of Hank Etchemendy. I offer his wife, Peggy, and the rest of his family our sincere condolences. May God reserve a special reward for this remarkable public servant.

-- Bob Thomas is a local businessman, past member of the Carson City School Board, the Nevada State Assembly and a former Nevada Appeal columnist.


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