Christmas on the Comstock: Understanding the value of tradition – better late than never | NevadaAppeal.com

Christmas on the Comstock: Understanding the value of tradition – better late than never

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

Tradition is something you don’t have when you come from a broken family that moved all the time and never stayed in touch unless someone died.

My family moved at least once a year and my parents divorced, so roots were something I didn’t really have.

As soon as the opportunity arose, I left the large Eastern city from which I had I come and ended up in the small town of Virginia City, where you’re not really considered a local unless your parents were born there.

But they say you don’t miss what you never had, so I never thought about family traditions until I attended the Virginia City Firefighters’ annual Christmas party for the children of Storey County on Tuesday.

Generations of Comstockers have participated in the event, which consists of the children from the elementary school putting on their Christmas program, followed by each child in Storey County, from newborn to fifth-grade, receiving a gift.

According to Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Curtis, the tradition of the Volunteer Fire Department’s Christmas party began sometime in the 1930s, when a toy was given to every student in the school district. He said now it is just for children up to fifth grade, because of the increase in population.

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He said for a long time the party was put on by the volunteer firefighters, but as their numbers waned in recent years, the paid department joined in.

The departments accept monetary donations and augment them with a benefit golf tournament every August. This year, they spent more than $3,000 on toys for about 280 children, with every child in each age and gender group getting the same thing, from makeup kits to Tonka trucks and basketballs.

Organizing the event is a family tradition of the Nevins, longtime Virginia City residents.

This year, the organization was done by Storey County Fire Department Administrative Assistant Cheri Nevin, who took over from her mother, Virginia, who had taken it over from her parents, Edna and Mark Rosso.

Virginia Nevin credited others with beginning the traditional party, including Hugh and Lola Gallagher, Delbert and Renee Benner, and Frank and Dorothy Fischer, who were there in the beginning.

Tuesday’s party began with a terrific program that combined holiday carols with patriotic themes.

Led by music teacher Squeek LaVake, the children sang “Jingle Bells,” “Joy to the World” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” They also put on a musical and narrated production of “Coming to America,” which honored the contributions of immigrants.

Then came the gifts. Santa came out, aka local resident Bill Pearson, who has played the role happily for the last few years, Curtis said.

“Santa is always either an active or former member of the Volunteer Fire Department,” he said.

Connie Carlson brought her daughters and grandchildren to the party.

“Their mom used to sit on Santa’s lap,” she said, pointing to little Isabella Brown and Gavin David Waddell, both under a year old.

“Their grandma sat on Santa’s lap, and now they’ve sat on Santa’s lap (at the party).”

Watching the scene of several hundred people who mostly knew each other, who had grown up together and many of whose parents had grown up together, I realized what they always had that I never did: A precious sense of community, an understanding of who they are and where they came from.

Curtis said with more new people moving into the area and older residents dying off, some of that sense of community is being lost.

“People don’t think of the excitement of the tradition,” he said. “They don’t realize the effort that goes into it.”

Who said you don’t miss what you never knew? I’m just lucky to be finding it now.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 881-7351.