Las Vegas Media Group ends, but history mission remains

The Las Vegas “Old Timers” Media Group, featuring many current and former print, radio and TV journalists, has shut down after 18 years.

Toward the end, the club had an email list of nearly 200 locals, some of whom met monthly to discuss Las Vegas history and swap stories. The club, co-founded in 1999 by former Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer Frank Mitrani and former Las Vegas Sun photographer Ken Jones, began meeting out of Jones’ house after the friends met at another friend’s funeral.

“We were standing outside, a group of us,” Mitrani, 86, said. “We hadn’t seen each other, some of us, for years. We were just standing out there talking like old friends do.”

The group of former colleagues and friends ended up at Jones’ house that day and reflected on “the good old days.” Mitrani began creating a list of former colleagues and friends in the media business with whom he had lost touch.

What evolved was an ever-rotating cast and crew of media, entertainment and history buffs who met monthly. Oftentimes the group would host speakers of historical interest, including entertainers, politicians and historians.

Jones was a Sun photographer from 1954 until his retirement in 1996, when he served as chief photographer and photo editor. He is best known for his aerial photos taken prior to Las Vegas’ development, Mitrani said.

Mitrani was a photographer at the Review-Journal from 1957-62, then ran a photography studio until his retirement in the mid-1990s.

Jones died in 2000, and Mitrani kept the group going. Meetings drew 20 to 40 attendees, on average.

Mitrani said one of his favorite speakers to visit the group was Ralph Denton, a lawyer, politician and civil rights activist who worked to end segregation in Las Vegas in the 1950s.

“He knew more about the inside workings of Las Vegas politics and survived it,” Mitrani said.

Mitrani moved to southern Utah in 2005 and left many of the group-management responsibilities to member Lisa Gioia-Acres, then a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada.

A wide range of other speakers included “(actor) Tony Curtis, (District Court Judge) Lloyd George, University of Nevada Las Vegas Special Collections librarians, former showgirls, other entertainers,” she said. “Really anybody with a history.”

The group met in a variety of places, such as The Wedding Room on West Sahara Avenue, IHOP, Railroad Pass Casino and Las Ventanas assisted-living facility.

And then it was Gioia-Acres’s time to move on; four years ago she relocated to serve as a history museum director at the Siskiyou County Museum in Northern California.

“I volunteered to coordinate (remotely) because I wanted to keep it alive,” Gioia-Acres said of the media group.

But the group struggled amid the difficulty of finding a venue that suited everyone, Gioia-Acres’ distance and the deaths of several prominent members. One of the group’s founding and most prominent members, Thalia Dondero, died in September.

Dondero was the first woman elected to the Clark County Commission, and through her connections the group was able to secure speakers such as former Gov. Bob Miller, former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and Bill Boyd of Boyd Gaming Corp.

“We had an amazing run with the speakers with Thalia,” said Media Group member Joe Thomson. After her death, he took over some of the organization himself, moving meetings to the Nevada State Museum. In November, Thomson was able to secure George as a speaker.

But the change of venue caused a rift. Some members wanted to stay at the museum, while others didn’t. Thomson, a historian and photographer, formed a new group, Pioneering Las Vegas History, late last year that meets at the State Museum on the second Tuesday of every month.

Some group members attended both groups’ meetings, while others chose one. The Pioneering group’s attendance continued to rise, while the “Old Timers” struggled, holding their official last meeting May 15.

Pioneering Las Vegas History’s April meeting focused on “why the original Las Vegas High School is worth saving” and featured alumni from graduating classes of the 1940s through 1960s.

May’s meeting featured a talk from principal planner for North Las Vegas Johanna Murphy, and on June 13, the group discussed aviation in Las Vegas and heard from Dr. Dan Bubb, a former airline pilot and professor at UNLV.

“Fortunately, we do have all these amazing people that are able to share their stories,” Thomson said.

Contact Madelyn Reese at mreese@viewnews.com or 702-477-3834. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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