After three score and 10 stacking time and doing business, the Carson City Chamber of Commerce busted into prison Monday with nearly 400 fall partners.
It was all in the spirit of a gala celebration to mark the chamber’s 70th birthday, if you prefer less cell block oriented terminology. Chamber leaders said they were celebrating seven decades in existence at one of Nevada’s and Carson City’s most historic sites, marking the very date on which the chamber was founded in 1945.
Lacy J. Dalton, country songwriter and singer, performed after tours, a barbecue dinner and tributes to dignitaries both in and outside the business organization. She joked that she and her colleague, Dale Poune, as the first artists to perform at the decommissioned Nevada State Prison knew they had a captive audience.
“Welcome to the Lacy J. Dalton extravaganza,” she declared, calling it a metaphysical prison experience just before she and Poune swung into their act before a crowd of more than 300 shaded by tents in the prison yard.
Terrie McNutt, head of the chamber’s board, presided moments before from the same open air stage by declaring the past year one marked by various changes. She said they included purchase of the chamber building that had housed the organization since 1988. Under her stewardship, the chamber picked up 50 new members and mentored them to assume growing roles in the organization.
The celebration marked the first public display of the prison for many in attendance and served as a harbinger of possible uses as the institutions is freed from its former role in the city’s and state’s past.
Honored during the ceremonial meeting were various Carson City leaders and community contributors, among them the late Pete Livermore. Livermore, a city supervisor and Carson City’s state assemblyman, was instrumental in getting legislation passed aimed at making the decommissioned prison into a historical and potential tourist attraction over time.
Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill, who won Livermore’s seat in the Nevada Legislature, was recognized for carrying on the Livermore effort. McNutt also introduced Mark Raymond, publisher of the Nevada Appeal, Jim Smolenski of Fitzhenry’s Funeral Home & Crematory, and Kris Wickstead of GE Oil & Gas as new chamber board members. She introduced Carol Swanson of Mary Kay Cosmetics as the next board chairperson and handed over the board gavel.
Before doing so, however, she presented $4,500 raised during the gala to the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society board of directors leadership, thanked Gil Yanuck for his work preceding her as chamber chairman and credited Ronni Hannaman, chamber executive director, for work on the evening’s festivities and the year’s success.
Sen. Dean Heller was among those appearing as well, reminiscing about growing up not far from the prison when it was still in service.
“I can remember when this was a maximum security prison and we would have escapes,” he said, recalling law enforcement would warn those living nearby to stay inside and safe. Heller also credited the chamber with helping make Carson City “a great place to grow up in, a great place to live, a great place to raise your children.”
Many in the crowd took tours offered as leaders of the prison preservation society conducted them before and during the pre-concert barbecue meal catered by Reds Old 395 Grill. Frank and Marian Furnari, longtime Carson City residents, were among those taking advantage of the opportunity.
“It was neat,” said Furnari. “I really enjoyed it. It was really interesting and a little scary — especially the hole. I went in briefly and came out very quickly.” His reference to the hole was about the prison’s solitary confinement space. At other points across the yard were places marked with signs indicating the prison library and license-making factory.
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