Joseph Alvin Elliott

An extraordinary man unexpectedly passed on November 26, 2014. Joseph Alvin Elliott was born in Seattle, WA, at Swedish Hospital on January 11, 1944. His father, Alvin Elliott, was overseas fighting during WWII at the time and his mother, Bernice Underdahl Elliott, relied on her family to help with the newborn son. The family eventually settled in Clovis, CA. Joe joyously spent every school boy summer with his paternal grandparents, Julia and Bert, playing in the redwoods near Occidental on the northern California coast. Upon graduating from Clovis High, he attended Fresno State but decided to enlist in the United States Navy where he served in Viet Nam. After leaving the Navy, Joe moved to Reno to be near his father. He loved the wild, rugged terrain and the wide, open space of Northern Nevada. He graduated from UNR with a degree in Journalism and initially worked as a reporter for the Reno Evening Gazette and the Nevada State Journal.

Joe left the Reno papers to become director of the Y-Riders, a national program for troubled youth, sponsored by Honda Motor Corporation and the YMCA. Joe seemed to have a calling for helping those who needed direction and guidance.

Subsequently, he was offered a teaching position at Hug High School where he developed a film production class that received national recognition from Kodak Corporation. After seven years at Hug, he ventured down to Southern California to work in motion pictures and to write screenplays. One of his screenplays, The Red Fury, was produced. It was theatrically released and played on the Disney Channel for two years. Joe returned to Reno to help take care of his dying father. It was at that time he started a maintenance and repair business in Reno which catered to shopping centers, as well as private individuals. Joe said he made more money in the maintenance repair business than in teaching, but teaching seemed to be what he was supposed to be doing, so when his mentor Jim Padgett was recruiting teachers for a new prison education program, Joe applied. It was a Thursday and he was told he had to have a school up and running at the Nevada State Prison (NSP) by that Monday. He was taken out to NSP and shown the two schoolrooms. They were long dog kennels with a dividing wall between them with GPs on one side and PCs on the other- that’s General Population and Protective Custody. There was nothing in the rooms except chunks of old sheetrock. No books. No desks. No students. The students were supposed to arrive on Monday. He went to Hug High and got sets of decommissioned books from teachers he had known there, and he went to Carson City School District’s salvage warehouse for a trailer load of broken desks. He spent the weekend welding up desks. When the students arrived on that Monday morning more than 25 years ago, they carried their desks and their books up the stairway to their classrooms. Joe taught classes in humanities, video production, and English. A number of his video production students left prison and took jobs with cable companies, television stations, and some even started their own videography businesses. One of Joe’s highlights as a prison teacher was June 23rd 2005 when world-renowned author Dr. Deepak Chopra accepted Joe’s invitation to come to the Nevada State Prison to speak to the inmates. Joe loved all music, especially jazz. He played the trombone, as well as the piano. He even composed some songs of his own. In 1991, Joe was elected to the Nevada State Legislature as an Assemblyman serving parts of Washoe County and Carson City. Joe had a tremendous interest in Western Culture, as well as metaphysical studies. He enjoyed reading, particularly anything about physics, philosophies, and Eastern mysticism. His favorite writers included Walter Van Tilburg Clark (whom he had the privilege of knowing and who once compared Joe’s writing to John Steinbeck), Steinbeck, Robert Penn Warren, Lyall Watson, and Dorothy Parker. Some of his favorite directors were John Sturges, John Ford, and Martin Ritt. His very favorite movie was The Magnificent Seven. Joe also was a private pilot and loved flying his Grumman Tiger, nicknamed “Tiger Baby,” through the beautiful Sierra Nevada. He was also a lifetime member of the DAV. Joe owned (and worked very hard at) an RV Park at beautiful Lake Almanor. He enjoyed all of his wonderful friends who returned every summer. They were like family. True to his tender and gentle soul, Joe found three abandoned three-week-old kittens at the RV Park last summer and immediately assumed responsibility for them. He bottle-fed and cared for the kittens and, of course, they became permanent members of the family. His heart and soul were at the campground and in the surrounding woods and forest. Joe loved all aspects of nature. He said the trees gave him strength and energy. Joe was recently described by a friend as, “a gem of a man, strength, compassion, honesty, humor and just down 2 earth.” He was a courageous man who had a deep, genuine zest for life. We are all better people for having known him and having him touch our lives. Joe is survived by his loving wife Crystal, their five precious cats, and his forever-devoted friend and dog, Buck. A Celebration of Joe’s Life will be held this spring at Lake Almanor.


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