Sunday, August 23, 2009

Las Vegas Legend

Eighty and still going strong

Its better that the birthdays don’t stop: We’ve gotten several emails lately about the good old days. Of course, that is the topic of many of my own blogs. As humans we tend to reflect on our past with a nostalgic pleasure, remembering mostly the good times and perhaps a few of the traumas that tend to live in the recesses of our mind. There are no more Civil War wives left and the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to a handful. Those of the so-called “Greatest Generation” are dying daily by the thousands. Even kids who will start college this fall don’t remember the day Magic Johnson announced he had HIV, the Chunnel under construction, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Tainanmen Square, or the downing of Pan Am flight 103. So imagine the memories an eighty-year-old might have that the rest of us do not.

Memories of an 80ster: Over the past couple of years we’ve attended birthday parties for a few octogenarians. Our neighbors Bob and Sally were recognized for hitting their 80th and last night we attended a surprise party for Theron Goynes, who just turned 80. If you do not live in Nevada or Texas or even Nashville, Arkansas you might not know much about the birthday boy, so let me share a little about this amazing man. Theron lost his Mom recently. “Mother Goynes” passed away several weeks ago just months shy of her hundredth birthday. She was fit, spry, and alert right up to her final day, so it is no surprise that her number one son fits those descriptors as well.

Young at heart, then and now: Theron Goynes was always special. At 5’7” he was unable to dunk a basketball but he exuded leadership and charm. While attending Prairie View University he was not only one of the snappiest dressers on campus but he took leadership roles as well in his fraternity and on campus. He lived through the Great Depression and came from a good family. Those are but two experiences that shaped who he would become. As a young math teacher in rural Nashville, Theron dated many of the local belles, but the one who caught his eye – perhaps through his stomach, was a young Home Economics teacher named Naomi, whose duties included cooking for the football team as well as for community events. Naomi also earned degrees in Chemistry and Music, but the chemistry between she and Theron would spark for more than a half century.

A more genteel time: In those post-World War II days in the Deep South, manners and etiquette were accepted as part of life. Even single adults did not date without meeting the parents of their dates, and beautiful Naomi had plenty of beaus to take home to Mama, including strapping young laborers, and football players. But Mama said, “Girl, I like the little guy. He will treat you best.” And Mama was right because 51 years, three children and a passel of grandchildren later Theron still treats her like a queen. The two schoolteachers married and moved away, taking jobs on an Indian Reservation then moving to Las Vegas in 1964 as the community and school system began to grow. They moved into a red brick house with a picket fence and began to change the community.

A social phenomenon was Las Vegas: As the community grew so quickly many people moved to Las Vegas and of course had no local family. Scores of young people came to Las Vegas during the ensuing years and became part of the Goynes extended family. Their door was open to serve as surrogate parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins to newcomers they met in church, at work, and socially. They became stars in the local school system. Naomi retired as an assistant principal and Theron served as a principal before his retirement. Hundreds of people have reflected on how the Goynes family impacted their lives in what could have easily been a scary, desert town, especially for those who were restricted to living, shopping, working, and even performing in certain areas of town. As recently as the early 1960s Sammy Davis, Jr. performed on the Strip but was not permitted to live there. When Theron and Naomi arrived in 1964 they were told by a realtor that there are some fairly nice houses “where you people live.”

Movin’ on up: As times changed and the community changed, the Goynes remained constants in their red brick house with the fence whose gate was always open and whose front door was rarely locked. Naomi juggled household chores with her career as she reared her children and was active in her church and the community. Theron was not content to be a principal for 30 years and community spokesperson so he ran for elected office and served as councilman and mayor pro-temp for 22 years. He was the first African American in Nevada history to so serve. When he was diagnosed as diabetic he researched the disease and discovered that diabetes in African Americans and Hispanics often went undetected so he campaigned to educate the community about early detection. He was instrumental in the effort to eliminate housing discrimination in his community. He retired from public service more than a decade ago and has since been recognized, as a 5’7” giant in the community.

A few signs of his legacy: He was recognized in 2008 with a Channel 8 television Spirit Award, a city park was built and named in his honor, he was recognized by Nevada League of Cities as Public Official of the Year, has been recognized as a mentor by his college fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, and has been recognized hundreds of times by dozens of organizations for his good work and unblemished political record. But the crown jewel of his and Naomi’s recognition is the Theron H. and Naomi Goynes Elementary School, rated by parents as a Five Star School. A happy 80th birthday to Theron and best wishes to Naomi, their family, and on behalf of the thousands of lives they’ve touched, may there be many more.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Happy Birthday to You” by All Your Friends.

Dr. Forgot

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