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The heart of the community
by John L. Smith
Apr 10, 2011 | 579 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sara Denton just can’t figure it out why the Boulder City Hospital Foundation decided to pay tribute to her and husband, Ralph, at its Heart of the Community Gala fundraiser.

“They honor somebody every year,” she says. “I don’t know why they’re honoring us. We haven’t done that much.”

No, not much at all.

All Sara and Ralph Denton have done is help make their community a better place to live for 52 years.

If you’re blessed, as I have been, you’ll find people like the Dentons in small towns throughout Nevada. They’re people who understand the importance of knowing your neighbors and caring about your public schools. They’re folks who understand deep in their beings that the only way to preserve a small-town quality of life is to fight for it.

The Dentons haven’t done much?

Well, there is Boulder City’s enviable slow-growth ordinance, which Sara offhandedly admits Ralph helped author. Of course, he was also on the scene when the Bureau of Reclamation finally relinquished its grip on Boulder City in late 1959.

Sara reluctantly admits that, yes, she was one of four women to create Boulder City’s nationally recognized annual Art in the Park celebration, one of the state’s great gatherings of painters and photographers. In fact, she recalls, the first Art in the Park wasn’t held in a park at all, but at the Denton family’s historic Boulder Dam-era home.

Speaking of history, and the Dentons will laugh that they’ve experienced a lot of it in their half century as residents, they have been major contributors to the growth of the Boulder City Museum and the preservation of the Boulder Dam Hotel on Arizona Street. The hotel is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Back in 1959 when Boulder City was still a Bureau of Reclamation company town, the Dentons moved there for many of the same reasons Nevadans today move there: the quiet community, good public schools and overall quality of life.

See if this sounds familiar. They had been living in Las Vegas with their three children when a population boom overwhelmed the public school system. Their children were faced with half-day sessions, and the quality of education suffered. In Boulder City, there were no such restrictions.

“In Las Vegas, they couldn’t build schools fast enough,” Sara recalls. “Ralph and I decided in Boulder City the kids could not only go to school full time, but they could walk to school. Boulder City made it safe for them. When we moved out here, it was just like a new world for them.

“And the teachers knew the kids. The teachers were all interested in their welfare. They knew how the kids were doing in school and what they were doing outside the high school. They had a great influence, I think, on raising our kids here.

“It was just like one big family.”

Followers of Nevada political history know Ralph as a driving force in the Democratic Party and a key figure in the hugely successful career of the late Gov. Grant Sawyer. Ralph’s life in politics is the subject of “A Liberal Conscience,” published in 2001 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program.

Although they have had a hand in almost every community-minded idea to take root in Boulder City in the last 50 years, you won’t find Sara and Ralph crowing about their personal accolades. They’d rather talk about their children and grandchildren. Married nearly 62 years, the Dentons are the proud parents of Clark County District Judge Mark Denton, best-selling author Sally Denton and University of Nevada School of Medicine’s Dr. Scott Denton. They have 10 grandchildren, who will return to Boulder City on Friday to honor one of Nevada’s great couples.

Heart of the Community, you say?

The award was made for them.

John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at
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