The boarded-up gymnasium behind Carson City Fire Station 51 is all that remains of the Nevada State Children’s Home Bonnie Boice Nishikawa grew up in.
But she can vividly bring to life the long-gone world of the state’s orphanage, which operated in the capital for more than 100 years.
“The home started on Roop Street and the V&T Railroad ran right down Roop Street,” Nishikawa said. “I always said we lived on the wrong side of the tracks.”
At an event Saturday hosted by the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, Nishikawa spoke and signed copies of her book, “My Life as a ‘Home’ Kid.”
The book is illustrated with photos from her childhood and tells the story of Nishikawa’s 13 years living in the large sandstone building also known as Sunny Acres.
She lived there with her brother and sister and about 75 other children, who spent their days doing chores, attending school and tending to the farm where they grew their own food and livestock.
“The home was a like a ranch,” Nishikawa said. “We milked cows, raised chickens and pigs. We had horses. We had gardens and provided all our own food.”
She also set pins.
“The home had the first bowling alley in Carson City,” she said. “We set pins for all the leagues in the city. They didn’t have automatic pin setters then. We were the pin setters.”
She attended school at King and Division streets, where she’d get a note from her teacher if she stayed late delaying her return home.
“We got in trouble if we got back late,” said Nishikawa.
She got in trouble, too, with her best friend Shirley, especially the time they played with matches.
“We started a fire. The fire department got called. We burned down a fence, but nobody got hurt,” Nishikawa said.
The children traveled everywhere in cattle trucks, Nishikawa remembered, including trips to Lake Tahoe for 4H camp.
“The only time we’d ride in a bus was when Harold’s Club or the Mapes or Riverside would invite us to some event or for a Christmas function,” she said.
Nishikawa was five years old in 1942 when her father placed her and her older brother and sister in the home.
Her mother had died of pneumonia when Nishikawa was three and a half years old, and she and her siblings went into a home in Oakland, Calif. two months later.
Her father, after discharge from the service, moved them to Reno where they lived with their grandmother for a year until they were placed in the Carson City orphanage.
“Oh, my gosh, I was so scared. I saw this huge ugly building and children were running all over,” said Nishikawa.
At first, she had a recurring nightmare her sister abandoned her.
“I kept dreaming about my sister, that she was leaving me, and I woke up and cried,” said Nishikawa. “Then I realized she was still there, thank goodness.”
In her last few years there, she worked at the state library and managed to save up $600 she used to attend business school when she left the home.
While attending school, she lived in Reno with attorney William Bradley and his wife Becky and cared for their children, including Bill and Joseph Bradley, partners in Reno law firm Bradley, Drendel and Jeanney.
Eventually, she moved back to Carson City, where she has lived since, and went to work for the state engineer’s office.
Nishikawa said she has only fond memories of the place she called home for most of her childhood.
“When you read this book, it’s very positive,” said Nishikawa. “All the home kids I stayed in touch with all have very positive feelings for the home.”