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An Irish Wake
by Harry Spencer
Jul 07, 2012 | 1481 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Per his instruction, the late Roy Powers was commemorated at an old-fashioned Irish wake last Saturday at Reno-Stead Airport. Before some 300 people in the Air Race headquarters hangar, M.C. Don Manoukian, Roy’s brother-in-law, started things off with a presentation of the Colors.

With typical humor Don said, “Just like all great romances Roy and Jackie’s began in a bar.” He was referring to the fact that the two first met in 1959 in the famous Corner Bar of the Riverside Hotel in Reno. Since I was doing the PR work for the Riverside at that time, I would often see Roy there because he had preceded me on the job.

After a whirlwind courtship, Roy persuaded Jackie to wed, although he was 14 years her senior. The two then enjoyed 52 years of wedded bliss and eventually worked together operating a successful framing and art business.

As it turned out, Roy followed his excellent advertising career as a recognized premiere artist. His specialty lay in creating drawings of many historic and non-historic buildings, the latest of which was a commission from Governor Brian Sandoval to depict the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Last Saturday’s event was very appropriate in that Roy was among the early pioneers of the Air Races. The late Bill Stead first approached Charles Mapes with the germ of an idea to create an air race in Reno. Once he had received Mapes’ blessing and secured the hotel as the headquarters of the event, his next stop was at Harold’s Club where he persuaded Roy to be one of the underwriters. The only other sponsorship of the first race was John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks.

The core of the first race was comprised of hydroplane racers with whom Stead was acquainted. Since he was only able to secure a half a dozen pilots in addition to himself, Stead felt that he had to flesh out the meager show. He dropped by my office in the Mapes one day and asked if I would contact Nevada’s United States Senator, Howard Cannon (D), who had been a client of mine when he first ran in 1958. I asked Bill what I should ask the Senator to do and he replied that he would like to have the Air National Guard Demonstration Flying Team appear in Reno. We placed the call to Washington and made the request with Howard saying, “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can with an answer.” In less than two hours we had the return call, and the Demo Team was slated to appear at the races.

To further enhance the event Bill, was able to contact the Hot Air Balloon Society to participate, which might have well been the beginning of the current Great Reno Balloon Races.

For his part Roy Powers was so enthused that he convinced Harold’s Club management to sponsor a cross-country race, from Florida to Reno, to publicize the Air Races. That event alone gave nation-wide exposure to the initial event. Roy also commissioned his artist, Mel Matthewson, to design the first Air Races poster as well as the permanent trophy that still exists.

Since the first race was held at the tiny Sky Ranch airport north of Sparks on the Pyramid Highway, controlling the dust on the dirt landing strip was the major problem. With the entire communities of Reno and Sparks abuzz with excitement, the races drew an astounding crowd. Also adding to the coffers of the Air Races was a grant from the State of Nevada, which was celebrating its Centennial year at the time. That first race was won by Mira Slovak, an ex-patriot from behind the Iron Curtain.

Last Saturday, during Roy’s service, it was announced that following his instructions his ashes were placed beneath the home pylon at Stead. So, as long as the races continue, Roy will be able to hear the sound of the powerful engines as they roar overhead.

The first of the speaker to appear at the podium was Bob Carroll, local advertising exec, whose agency handled the RSCVA account when Roy was that entity’s director of advertising. In his remarks, Carroll highlighted the fact that Roy’s keen artist eye was a great help in developing advertising layouts. The next speaker was insurance man Bill Wallace, who is also a director of the Hawkins’ Foundation. He recounted the fact that he had met Roy a scant 12 years ago and was so impressed with the latter’s dedication to the community of Reno that he asked Roy to join the Board. The final speaker was Howard Putnam who worked with Roy when he (Putnam) was with United Air Lines and Reno Air. Both Wallace and Putnam told of how they enjoyed playing golf with Powers, particularly when they reached the 19th hole.

Following the speakers, the Color Guard presented an American flag to Roy’s widow. After the brief ceremony the assemblage was treated to libations and food, just like a traditional Irish wake.

The primary reason the Reno Air Races has enjoyed such a long and colorful history is that Stead Air Base, formerly the Reno Air Base, was abandoned by the Army and became available through the Reno Airport Authority. If it had not, the Reno Air Races, which were marred by last year’s tragic crash, would have never had such a long and successful tenure. Its 50-year-plus existence is probably the greatest legacy of Powers’ outstanding Reno career.

Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.
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An Irish Wake by Harry Spencer

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