Klondike owner remembered growing up hungry

Even on its best day no one would have mistaken the Klondike Hotel and Casino for a Strip mega-resort.

With its 153 rooms and 7,700 square feet of casino space, it was a decidedly humble gambling hall set on the south end of the Boulevard, a short stroll from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. These days, some top resorts offer high-roller suites as large as the Klondike’s gambling hall.

The Klondike closed in 2006. Gone with it is its practically famous 99-cent spaghetti dinner special. Gone, too, just this past week, is the little casino’s equally unpretentious owner, John Woodrum. He was 76.

With his double-baritone voice and country boy charm, Woodrum was never the Strip’s biggest dreamer. It’s unlikely any profile writer ever called him a visionary. But imagine beginning life as a dirt-poor Kentucky sharecropper’s son who went hungry more times than he could count. Now tell me he wasn’t the most successful gambling titan on the Boulevard.

Woodrum was born in 1938 in Albany, six miles from the Tennessee line and a million miles from the lights of Las Vegas. Even today the sparsely populated Kentucky county is rock-ribbed by anyone’s measure.

Even as an ignorant teenager Woodrum knew he wanted more from life than scratching out a meager existence. He had to leave Albany behind.

He joined a carnival and worked all the games, learning about life on the road and picking up a feel for cards and dice. In no time, he was a capable hand in back-alley gambling games. Those skills eventually led him to Las Vegas.

After years in the legal gaming industry, he was able to purchase the Klondike from Ralph Engelstad. Woodrum went to work. His hands-on approach to the grind of the casino business was something that’s exceedingly rare in today’s world of 4,000-room hotels, celebrity restaurants, and high rollers who gamble the price of your house on a turn of the cards. Like his gambling hall, Woodrum was a throwback to a time when operators kept their chow cheap, their drinks flowing, and were on a first-name basis with their regular customers.

He also became a trusted adviser to a surprising number of successful casino executives, who appreciated his life experience and unpretentious approach.

“He was a great, great mentor,” longtime casino executive Danny Wade says. “He came from Kentucky with no financial means. He grew up in a tough environment. In Las Vegas, it was just the reverse. Even though at first he didn’t have a whole lot of money, he was a giver and a mentor beyond anything you can imagine. Although John was not scholastically educated, he was very knowledgeable, a great reader. He helped people like myself.”

Las Vegan Jerry Kring adds, “He was one of the dearest men that I’ve ever met. He worked himself up from a small town in Kentucky to become a casino owner in Las Vegas. When he walked in the joint, everyone was his friend, everyone was like extended family. The customers felt the same way about him. They called him big John.”

At the Klondike, winning a spaghetti dinner comp was as simple as asking for one. The place attracted a mostly older clientele that included many Social Security pensioners out for a good time. They found one there on the Strip in the shadow of some of the world’s greatest and gaudiest casino resorts.

Talk about a hands-on operator. Kring recalls Woodrum many times listing in minute detail the ingredients of his spaghetti sauce. It wasn’t gourmet, but his customers appreciated the fare whether they were money ahead or pinching nickels.

Offering inexpensive food wasn’t an accident, or merely a grind-joint marketing ploy.

“He told me about a lot of hungry nights,” son Michael Woodrum says. “He definitely came from humble beginnings. That’s why he was so grounded in life.”

Kring observes, “He always said he appreciated being able to help anybody who came through the door with a hot meal or a cup of coffee.”

From Albany to Las Vegas, John Woodrum never forgot where he came from.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like