For Claytee White, history isn’t just something you just read about in a book. It’s something you hear from the people who were there.
White is the director of the Oral History Research Center, based in the special collections department in the Lied Library on the campus of UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. While she still cracks open a book or two, the information she enjoys the most comes from making audio recordings of people from the valley and hearing their tales of the early days.
“The library supports us 100 percent,” White said. “They love what we do. We’re bringing in the history of Las Vegas for our students and for our researchers who come from all over the country and the world.”
The research center’s latest project is called The West Charleston Neighborhood: An Oral History Project of Ward One.
“The project was suggested by Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian,” White said. “Lois had lots of leads for us. We’re going to talk with Mrs. (Nancy) Houssels and several other people whose names you would recognize.”
Houssels is the co-founder of the Nevada Ballet Theatre.
The Oral History Research Center was created 10 years ago, and White has been there from the beginning. It has several projects going on at once, including a project involving black Americans.
“We’re really just getting started on the Ward One project,” said Barbara Tabach, project manager for the center. “We have about a half -dozen interviews done.”
White is the research center’s only full-time employee. For the Ward One project, many of the interviews are being conducted by volunteers.
“We have two major projects going at the same time,” White said. “Because of that, we wanted to staff this project in a new way. We found some ladies who are retired and wanted something to do. It started with one lady who wanted to learn how to take oral histories, and she brought in four of her friends.”
White said she couldn’t be happier with the women and the work they’re doing.
“They’re well-educated,” White said. “They know people in the McNeil, Scotch 80s and the other neighborhoods we’re working in. They’re going to be a tremendous help.”
Even though much of the fieldwork is being handled by volunteers, there was one early interview White felt she had to sit in on.
“We interviewed a young lady named Lisa Brown who lives in the Scotch 80s,” White said. “She took a home and renovated it. She left the exterior the way it was and redid the inside. I wanted to go to the interview because I had interviewed a person in that same house 10 years ago.”
The West Charleston Neighborhood: An Oral History Project of Ward One is an ongoing project. Interested parties can reach the Oral History Research Center at 702-895-2222 or contact White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at email@example.com or call 702-224-5524.