While these students earn college credit, the community gains a little of its history back.
Students in Lisa Gioia-Acres’ Nevada history class at the College of Southern Nevada, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., are learning the subject from the area’s primary sources.
On Oct. 16 about 20 longtime Las Vegans – most of them members of the Las Vegas Media Group – came to Gioia-Acres’ classroom and met one-on-one with her students for about 90 minutes. Some students recorded the interviews, while others took notes. They will use that information to write a research paper and make a presentation to their classmates, putting that person’s life in a historical context .
The Las Vegas Media Group is a club of long time locals that meets monthly to share stories. Former Las Vegas Sun photographer Frank Mitrani co-founded the group in 1999, and Gioia-Acres began organizing the meetings after Mitrani moved to Utah.
Gioia-Acres has been teaching since 2009 and began recording oral histories around the same time. She tweaked her class last semester with the approval of CSN history chairman Michael Green in order to gather more histories.
"I realized that I’m never going to get them all down," she said. "I’ve lost so many of them already. Many of them have died. So I said, ‘Why not have my students interview them?’
"Nevada history is all about the well-knowns, the Frank Sinatras, the Bugsy Siegels. I’m very interested in the lesser-known stories."
Gioia-Acres is also the biography coordinator for the Southern Nevada Women’s History Project and is working on a third volume of 100 women who impacted Southern Nevada. Students in another class are helping with that project.
Gioia-Acres is accepting suggestions from the community for women to be included in the upcoming volume. To contact her, visit lisagioiaacres.com. Gioia-Acres’ first book, "Showgirls of Las Vegas," is scheduled be published in February.
The student response was so positive after last semester, said Gioia-Acres, that she brought back the same class format. Along with interviewing someone, writing a research paper and giving a presentation, students are required to make five field trips to nearby historical sites. Two of the trips, to the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort and The Mob Museum – The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement – are done as a group during class time. Students can pick the other three and must write essays about their trip.
CSN student Ashley Yarbrough admitted she took the class because Nevada history is a prerequisite for graduation but said she is glad this course is the one she picked.
"The more I learn about where I live, the more I want to know," said Yarbrough, who plans to be an elementary schoolteacher. "A lot of us live day to day and never really give thought to (history)."
Her classmate, Cyrena Wareham, recently moved to Las Vegas from Alaska because her husband was transferred to Nellis Air Force Base. She interviewed Federal Judge Lloyd George, namesake of the Lloyd D. George U.S. Federal Courthouse, 333 Las Vegas Blvd. South. George graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1948 and served in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a judge.
George’s family moved to Las Vegas before Hoover Dam was completed and when there were only about 5,000 people in the community and one high school, he said. He remembers a time when "there was no Strip at all." He also recalled the struggle that came along with the naming of the famous dam. Congress originally named it Hoover Dam, then "Democrats took over and changed it to Boulder (Dam), then as soon as Republicans got back in office, they renamed it to Hoover," he said.
George has volunteered before to talk to students in Gioia-Acres’ classes. He said he enjoys it .
"I’m not the most important person, but when they call and ask, I’m happy to do it," he said. "I’ve lived here about 80 years. There are a lot of people who don’t know about Las Vegas."
Wareham, too, took the class because it was required. But it has introduced her to the state’s real history, she said.
"Whenever I thought of Nevada, I thought of gambling, alcohol, dead celebrities," Wareham said. "What I came to find out is Nevada is extremely rich in history in regards to how the state was formed. It really changes your perspective (and) brings to the foreground what once was.
"You don’t get this kind of stuff out of a history book," Wareham said.
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5524.Southern Nevada Women’s History Project
For more information about the Southern Nevada Women’s History Project and to offer suggestions about women to include, visit lisagioiaacres.com.