Farewell to Las Vegas

In the weeks leading up to my graduation from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1988, I applied for jobs as a newspaper reporter. There was some interest in the region, thankfully. (The New York Times ignored my resume, of course.) Initially, I was offered jobs in Sparks, Carson City and Bishop, Calif.

The best offer came from Carson City’s Nevada Appeal, where I had been a summer intern. Assuming we would continue our post-collegiate lives in Northern Nevada, my wife and I started looking for a place to live in the state capital. But then the Las Vegas Sun called, and after a couple of phone conversations with then-managing editor Sandy Thompson, I was offered a position.

It was an easy decision: better money, bigger newspaper and a return to bustling Southern Nevada. At the time I thought I would put in a couple of good years at the Sun, learn to report and write alongside the seasoned pros, and then move on to a bigger paper in a bigger city. Of course, I pictured myself at The New York Times before too very long.

Well, the plan to spend two years in Las Vegas turned into 23 years. It turned out my bosses thought I might have a knack for editing and management, and so I was offered opportunities to move up the ladder in Las Vegas rather than go elsewhere to advance my career. Ten years at the Sun, three years with Wick Communications and 10 years with the Review-Journal.

And no regrets about sticking around a whole lot longer than originally planned.

At month’s end, the Las Vegas portion of my career comes to an end at last. I’m not going to The New York Times, though. I dropped that goal quite a while ago.

Instead, Stephens Media, the company that owns the Review-Journal, has given me an incredible promotion. I will be the publisher of the company’s Iowa newspaper group, the flagship of which is the Ames Tribune.

Ames is 1,500 miles from Las Vegas — a long drive but a short flight. However, from other perspectives, it’s worlds away from Las Vegas. As a result, this could be a bit of a culture shock for my family and me, considering how long we’ve lived in the 24-hour, gambling-fueled, adult-centered atmosphere of Sin City.

But I have a small advantage: I spent my most formative years in the Midwest. Born in Madison, Wis., I lived for 11 years in central and southern Wisconsin. Although my blood has thinned considerably since those childhood days, I know what a real winter looks and feels like. I know about bucolic small towns settled by groups of immigrants from specific regions of Europe. I’ve never lost my fanatical support for the Green Bay Packers. In a sense, I’m going home.

My wife? Not so much experience with the Midwest. Raised on the California coast and having spent almost as much time in Nevada as I have, she’s a little freaked out, frankly, about the prospect of freezing temps and piles of snow. My only good advice is to bundle up and recognize that many tens of millions of people live wonderful lives in four-season climates.

I was tempted to headline this final column “Leaving Las Vegas,” echoing the title of the award-winning movie. But that film’s dark themes bear no relationship to my sentiments as I prepare to depart. I like Las Vegas. I have family here, close friends, many great colleagues and a vast web of acquaintances from my work as a columnist, author, editor, speaker and uncredentialed local historian.

Although I’m moving away, I will continue to have connections to Las Vegas and Nevada. The company is based here, of course, and we will visit family and friends. I’m still contracted to write books for Stephens Press, and will continue editing books as well. In short, you can’t get rid of me that easy.

Over the past few years, Las Vegas has taken a beating. It is evident in so many ways, from the unemployment to the foreclosures to the business failures. Few if any experts predicted Las Vegas could suffer so greatly for so long, especially after such a lengthy period of growth and prosperity.

But as I have often done in this space over the past five years, I offer an optimistic perspective. Consider the resilience that Las Vegas has shown in the wake of the real estate and banking crises. Yes, many people have been hit hard, but if you look at Las Vegas as a whole, as an entity beyond the personal realm, it has refused to lie down, give up, walk away. There has been no mass exodus. On the contrary, business leaders and residents alike are planning for what they will do when the economy recovers.

If I might offer one last editorial comment, it is to plead for Las Vegans collectively to rethink their apathy toward the importance of a good public education system. During its rich history, Las Vegas has overcome many obstacles to become a vibrant metropolis of 2 million people. But the lack of commitment to education will, I believe, stymie the city going forward.

Best wishes.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal’s director of community publications.

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