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Racel Street steeped in north valley history

Before the 1960s, Racel Street in Centennial Hills was a dirt path without a name.

During the early years of Las Vegas, the street was named for Frank and Mary Ellen Racel, who lived in the city for 50 years. They became the first to build their home on what became known as Racel Road in 1968.

“Back then, streets were not named to honor someone,” said Peggy Harris, daughter of the couple. “A significant number of streets were named after the first person to get a building permit. My parents were the only ones who lived on that street for years.”

Mary Ellen was born in St. Charles, Ill., on Aug. 10, 1935, to Benton William Davis and Mary Ann Haines Davis.

Her father, who was a pilot, moved the family to Anchorage, Alaska and Barranquilla, Colombia, before settling in Albuquerque, N.M., where he flew engineers who lived in Albuquerque to jobs at the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Frank was born in Santa Rosa, N.M., on June 20, 1931, to Margaret Racel and Frank Racel.

The two met at the University of New Mexico and married in 1957.

Frank worked as a photographer and cameraman for an Albuquerque news station. He was asked to follow the anchor to Indianapolis, where the couple lived for the first four years of their marriage and had four children.

Years later, Frank found a job as a photo technician to build and set up cameras to take photos of tests at the Nevada Test Site. In 1962, the family moved to Las Vegas and rented a house in the Hyde Park area.

“My mother contributed a lot to Las Vegas,” said daughter Susan Weber. “She was the type of person who would help anyone who needed help. She touched a lot of people’s lives. She truly put herself last. Everyone in our neighborhood knew her.”

Within a couple of years of moving to Las Vegas, the couple had two more children.

“With six children, and still recovering from his time unemployed and a loss on the sale of their house in Indianapolis, my father decided the only way he’d be able to afford to a house large enough for his growing family would be to build it himself,” Harris said.

As the couple started looking for available land, Mary Ellen began to work for Joseph Kadans, who sold herbal supplements out of his home. It was at the Kadans’ home that the Racels first met Bill Gilcrease, a friend and fellow Lions Club member, according to Harris.

The couple purchased 10 acres, which included a well, near what is now Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs.

“They cut corners wherever possible, living in five dusty-green, run-down trailers, connected at the doorways, in an attempt to save for their new home,” Harris said.

She added that during that time, the area was isolated with approximately six families living between Tule Springs and Gilcrease Ranch.

“None of the nearby roads, as we know them today, existed at the time,” Harris said. “These dirt paths had no names. The only road that was named was Gilcrease Road, which passed by the edge of the Gilcrease Ranch.”

When Frank was ready to build his first home, the couple went to obtain a building permit and were asked for an address.

Harris said that with no street name and the Racel family being the only ones living on that dirt path at the time, it was assigned Racel Road, later changed to Racel Street.

Before Mary Ellen could insure the house, it burned in 1968, and the family lost everything.

Being close friends with the Gilcrease brothers, the family was offered the Gilcrease Ranch House to live in until it was able to rebuild. Mary Ellen began working for Ted Gilcrease soon after and continued to do so for more than 30 years as an errand runner, administrative assistant and property manager.

The family ultimately built a second five-bedroom, two-bathroom house, where the couple lived for approximately 30 years with their seven children.

The couple divorced in 1993.

Frank moved briefly back to New Mexico. After retiring, he moved to the Philippines, where he now spends his time with his wife Leta sight seeing and watching television.

“When we purchased our land, it was 15 miles out of town, so we saw the town grow to surround our land,” said Frank Racel. “It’s nice to know that your name will be preserved since it was selected by my father. His parents came from Slovakia, and the name was hard to pronounce and spell, so he took his aunt’s name and dropped the h to get Racel.”

Mary Ellen was diagnosed with cancer around Thanksgiving in 2012 and died at age 77 on Christmas Eve that year.

“We were, like, one of maybe six families that lived in that 3-mile span,” Harris said. “It was because of the families that moved there that all of the roads were graded and then paved. My parents were sort of like pioneers in that area.”

Contact North View reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@viewnews.com or 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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