“What’s on deck for Sunday morning?” the crew of the Seven Ayem Senior Moment Krispy Crème BS & Kaffeeklatch asked. “So many topics, so little space,” I lamented. The suggestion that followed was unanimous: It’s Homecoming weekend on the Hill – resurrect some University of Nevada history for the alums in town. (In a column years ago I scribed that for many of us, “the Hill” remains a term of endearment for the Nevada campus.)
A piece that ran a while back drew a lot of mail, because very few of us, and I include myself, ever knew who the Jot Travis Student Union was named for. His name was really Ezra Johnson Travis and he raised horses and built stage lines until he died in 1919. His son Wesley Elgin Travis, who ascended to the presidency of Greyhound Bus Lines, bequeathed the university the tidy sum of $300,000 upon his death in 1952 “…to be used for the construction of a building to be named the ‘Jot Travis Student Building,’ so long as a matching amount be approved by the Nevada State Legislature.”
Work on the student center commenced in October of 1956, amid a gnarly challenge of trying to build a structure so close to Manzanita Lake, and the building was finished in May of 1958. Three generations of us have met “at the Jot.” This, in retrospect, beats what might have become known as “the Ezra.”
The present Getchell Library was named for Noble Getchell, a Nevada miner and member of the Nevada legislature, and the chief executive officer and vice-president of George Wingfield’s Getchell Mines. Getchell donated a portion of the $2.8 million cost of the new building – he had hoped to donate more, and twist the mining industry’s tail to help out, but a dry stretch in the state’s mining industry curtailed a lot of the hoped-for participation. It opened in January of 1962, and would be the largest library in the state and the definitive resource for Basque history and heritage the world around.
Soon, the “Jot” and the Getchell Library will be replaced, and many alums hope that the benevolence of the Travis family, of Noble Getchell, and the memory of the Mike Ingersoll Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate Room will live on in the replacement buildings.
But the dominant donor to the university remains Max C. Fleischmann (pictured above). He was born in 1877 to parents who had already made their fortune in yeast production, and what follows is the tale of a man who started with 20 million dollars and ran it into a fortune.
He moved to Nevada with his wife Sarah in 1930, bought ranches near Yerington and Carson City, built a grand home in Glenbrook, and lost little time in starting to enhance northern Nevada for the next half-century. Early on he enabled the conversion of the federal Carson City Mint to the Nevada State Museum, the purchase-then-donation of the sprawling 264-acre Ladino Dairy Ranch to the university, help to the Boy Scouts, Ducks Unlimited, libraries, both local hospitals and the school district. After WWII came the endowment of the Max C. Fleischmann College of Agriculture and the Sarah H. Fleischmann College of Home Economics.
In 1952 he endowed the Fleischmann Foundation to the tune of 63 million dollars, give or take a mil or two and rising with accruing interest like the yeast that created it. Foundation trustee Sessions (Buck) Wheeler’s biography of Fleischmann Gentleman in the Outdoors was published by the University Press in 1985.
Max died by his own hand on Oct. 16, 1951 in Santa Barbara, where he maintained another ranch, very shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. The foundation continued his philanthropic work; two major benefactors in the years shortly following his death were the new National Judicial College and the Desert Research Institute. Sarah passed away in July of 1960. The Foundation’s final reconciliation was made in 1978, and the obligatory public record revealed 192 million dollars in grants, with 47 per cent of them staying in northern Nevada and the University the biggest benefactor. Its smallest single grant was 250 dollars; the largest, 19.3 million dollars, that to the University.
The Fleischmann Atmospherium-Planetarium, named at his request for his parents, was built in 1963 by McKenzie Construction to a Ray Hellman design. The Gannett Foundation of Gannett Publishing, known for its great Sunday columnists, endowed the sky projector.
Where did the other 53 per cent of the Fleischmann Foundation’s grants go? A great deal went to education throughout Southern California and specifically in Santa Barbara. There were some major endowments to schools in the Rockies heavy into mining and agriculture, including a wing on the University of Colorado’s planetarium. And we’d like to think he just frittered a few mil away (a WWI combat pilot, he commuted to and from Santa Barbara in his own Lockheed Vega, similar to Amelia Earhart’s Electra.)
Anyhoo – to the Nevada alums in town, we say welcome, and remind you to pick this column up Sundays off the RGJ.com web and sound off by e-mail.
Added, a note from Dr. Gene Pascucci:
As you know my parents bought the bunkhouse on the Evans ranch on Evans Ave in 1955, Evans being another integral donor to the then- University of Nevada.
Such a great article to read today as our house bordered on the campus and it literally was my childhood playground growing up. I jumped our back fence and cut thru the campus everyday walking past Getchell and Jot Travis to go to school at Saint Alberts on North Virginia across from Jot Travis Student Union, a building my dad had worked on.
I watched them build Getchell Library and collected the workman’s empty soda bottles for 5 cent refunds to buy candy at the little corner store on Artemesia and Sierra St.
We rode our bikes down to Fleishmann’s Ag building and would wander thru the halls to look at all the biology specimens entombed in formaldehyde glass jars. Little did I know at the time how much I would appreciate that I would eventually get my Biology degree and those three men’s buildings would be so integral to my early life and later my education. Such fond memories stimulated from your article this morning of days gone by.
© a long time ago