We call him Virgil
For those who knew him in the state Legislature and of his leadership in rural Nevada politics, he was known as Mr. Getto.
For those who worked with him in agriculture, he was a friend, a diligent, hard-working rancher.
Yet, for those who knew him in Churchill County, he was lovingly and respectfully known as Virgil.
Native son Virgil Getto died Nov. 6 at his home after a lengthy illness. He was 90. A Mass of the Resurrection will be conducted today at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Church followed by a Celebration of Life at 11:30 a.m. at The Gardens Funeral Home with interment to follow in The Gardens Cemetery.
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. who grew up with one of Getto’s sons, David, said he was saddened when he heard of Getto’s death.
“I remember from the longest time he was always serving this community,” said Tedford, adding Getto was involved with FFA, the school board and then the state Legislature. “He had a lifetime of service.”
Because he had grown up with David, Tedford said he knew Virgil Getto quite well.
Tedford said Getto was diligent in whatever he accomplished and did not outwardly seek recognition. In fact, when serving in public life, Tedford said Getto was a person who would give sage advice but remain low key.
“He had so much experience, and you respected him for that,” Tedford said.
For years Tedford and Getto attended Fallon Rotary Club meetings, a span that stretched decades. It was also from those meetings that former Fallon Rotary President Steve Endacott knew Getto and what he brought to the club. Their interests, though, stretched past the meeting room.
“As the parent of a son who is pursuing a career in agriculture, we have been exposed to Virgil’s support and generosity towards the youth of Churchill County in their pursuits of agricultural education,” Endacott said. “He supported the FFA, gave generous college scholarships to Churchill County High School graduates and would give a tour of his farm at the drop of a hat. He supported the Boy Scouts and allowed them to conduct conservation projects on his property along the Carson River.”
A political calling
Not only was Getto widely known in agriculture circles throughout Northern Nevada, but he was also an effective legislator having served in both the Assembly and Senate.
After serving one term as a trustee on the Churchill County School Board, Getto successfully ran for Assembly in 1966 and campaigned with a grassroots effort by knocking door to door. For the next 26 years, he served his constituents in Carson City.
“I was very sad to hear about the news,” said former Gov. Bob List, who first met Getto more than 40 years ago. “He was a wonderful guy — sincere, hardworking — and he loved rural Nevada.”
List, whose parents had a ranch in Washoe Valley, appreciated agriculture and the people who worked the fields or milked the cows.
“The best memory of Virgil was me helping him milk cows on one occasion,” List said, referring to a campaign stop in Fallon. “He loved agriculture. Virgil was old-style, a salt-of-the-earth man.”
Yet, it was Getto’s effectiveness as a rural Nevada legislator that impressed List. He said Getto and another Fallon lawmaker, State Sen. Carl Dodge, knew the people they served.
“They were big men from little towns,” List said. “Virgil stood out among them.”
Getto served in the Assembly from 1967-76 and took a break to return to his Fallon ranch. He ran again for Assembly and was elected in 1978 and served until 1980 when he was appointed to fill Dodge’s Senate seat for two years. Getto then returned to the Assembly from 1983-88 and ran successfully for Senate. He announced his retirement in 1992.
In 2007, the Assembly added Getto to its Wall of Distinction.
The education man
Before and during his time as a state lawmaker, Getto believed in education. He made numerous professional and personal contributions to the community college system, especially Western Nevada College’s Fallon campus. A building on the Fallon campus was renamed in his honor in 2004.
Bus Scharmann, who retired several years ago after serving as dean of the Fallon campus, said Getto and Dodge were some of the strongest advocates for education.
“He partnered with Carl Dodge to make this campus happen,” Scharmann said.
Prior to having an actual WNC building, classes were held at various Churchill County schools and sometimes at the National Guard Armory. Scharmann said the college also used commercial building to hold classes.
“Virgil was always an advocate, and his philosophy was that a community college would provide rural communities with a postsecondary education. That is the way he felt until he died,” Scharmann said.
The 1979 Legislature approved the first building for Fallon, but the first location eyed for one was near Rattlesnake Mountain. Scharmann said the Navy nixed that idea because the building would be in the flight path.
Churchill County stepped in, and Scharmann said a piece of land was provided to the college at its present site next to the Fallon Convention Center.
Over the years, Schamann said both Getto and Dodge donated thousands of their own dollars for improvements to the campus so that it would serve as a model for other communities.
A tireless worker
Fellow rancher and former Assemblyman John Carpenter of Elko served with Getto in the 1980s. Carpenter was born in Fallon but grew up in eastern Nevada.
“He was a tireless worker,” Carpenter said of the Fallon Republican. He ran his business, he took care of his family, and then he poured his energy and intellect to do what was right for Churchill County and his district.
Carpenter said Getto did not think about elections, power or party affiliation.
“He did what was right,” Carpenter stressed, adding that rural Nevada has produced some of the greatest leaders in the state. “He deserves so much praise and accolades for a lifetime of public service.”
Getto believed in working across the aisle although he may have had disagreements. Former Gov. Richard Bryan began serving in the Assembly in 1968, two years after Getto was first elected. Although he was a Democrat, Bryan said he and Getto worked together and also socialized after a day’s work.
Once they arrived at their favorite bar, Bryan said Getto would order a Scotch and milk.
“I never forgot that,” Bryan said with a laugh. “With that libation, I always thought of the ag industry.
“He was a good friend of mine, and I enjoyed serving with him in the Legislature. He was straight forward and a great supporter of rural Nevada.”
Bryan said he remembers those days of walking down the aisle in the Assembly chambers and visiting with Getto often. Both Republicans and Democrats listened to him, and Bryan said Getto was a great legislator who had a “world of knowledge.”
Bryan said Getto and Joe Dini of Yerington, a Democrat, roomed together during the week and then headed to their respective counties on the weekends. Despite the two men coming from different political parties, Bryan said their bipartisanship made the Assembly work.
“They worked together, very close together, and their constituents benefited from it,” Bryan said.
Not only did Getto spend time with his fellow rural legislators from western Nevada such as Dini and Lawrence Jacobsen of Douglas County, but he also worked with the Elko lawmakers such as Carpenter and Dean Rhoads, Bryan said.
“Uppermost in my mind is that he represented the people in Churchill County, and he advocated for his people,” he said.
Bryan also credits Dini and Getto for introducing him to the agriculture industry.
Like Bryan, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was also a new assemblyman in the late 1960s when he first met Getto.
“I served with Virgil in the 1969 legislative session, and he was so easy to work with,” Reid said in a statement. “Richard Bryan and I were the only two freshmen out of 60 members. Virgil was so thoughtful to Dick and me. I will always remember that and appreciate his kindness. He was a Republican, I am a Democrat, but we were able to work together to do good things for Nevada. I will miss him.”
THE GETTO LEGACY
Getto, the son of Italian immigrants, was born in Fallon on June 19, 1924, and grew on the family ranch. At the time of his death, he still resided at the Centennial Farm established by his father Andrew.
Brothers John and Andrew purchased the land where their farms have operated since 1911, and their families joined an elite list of Nevada ranchers and farmers during a ceremony in October 2011.
In this case, it all began in 1911 when three Italian immigrants — John Getto (1880-1964), his younger brother, Andrew (1884-1971), and their business partner, E.D. Frazzini — purchased a 145-acre farm located less than two miles north of town on the Carson River.
According to the bill of sale dated on Oct. 30, 1911, Charles W. Foote received $10 in gold coin for the purchase.
Realtor Bob Getto, a relative, said many people knew the Fallon lawmaker and the contributions he made to agriculture and politics. Recently, while attending a conference in New Orleans, Bob Getto received a text message that Virgil had died. Aboard the Creole Queen, which was steaming along the Mississippi River, Bob Getto was talking to Paul Bottari, a realtor and former teacher from Wells, a small Elko County community.
“He asked me, “’How is Virgil?” Getto said. “I stepped back and told him Virgil passed away during the night.”
Bottari’s head dropped.
Bob Getto was close to Virgil. Although Virgil and Bob Getto’s father were cousins, the extreme closeness caused Bob to refer to Virgil as his uncle.
“Dad and Virgil were raised more like brothers than cousins,” said Bob Getto. “They spent a lot of time together.”
Additionally, Bob Getto spent much time with his “uncle” and his family and attended many legislative sessions when Virgil Getto served in the Legislature.
FATE AND PAT
Virgil Getto and Pat (Stark) were both divorced, yet, it was fate that brought them together in the 1980s.
Pat grew up in Fallon but departed the Lahontan Valley for Denver where she spent 27 years. When she returned to the Silver State, Pat began teaching at Fernley Middle School but commuted there from Fallon with fellow teachers Bonnie Bell and Steve Biddinger.
One day, Pat said a friend of theirs, Charlie Robinson, took them to the Red Eyes Saloon on east Stillwater Avenue near the corner intersection with Harrigan Road.
“Charley asked me if I wanted to meet my senator,” she remembers.
Once inside, Pat noticed the live band and danced a few tunes with Virgil.
Their love grew day by day, and they married in 1983.
Pat continued to drive to Fernley for three more years until Churchill County School District hired her on a one-year contract. After the year, she moved to West End Elementary School where she stayed 13 years before retiring.
Pat said Virgil was one of the hardest working men she had ever met. Up before dawn, he worked the herd until after sunset. Many times, according to Pat, she would leave his dinner in the oven until he stepped inside their Lovelock Highway home at the end of the day, ready to call it quits.
Whenever Virgil traveled as a legislator, Pat accompanied him as much as she could. She remembers an incident that occurred in the late 1980s when they were headed to Reno for a function.
Their car ran out of gas in Washoe Valley, and Pat said Virgil pulled the car to the side of the road not too far away from the List Ranch.
“He jumped out and sprinted across the field and over the fence and then to the List Ranch,” Pat said. “They filled up a gas can and brought him back to the car.”
Once the car had some fuel, they resumed their trip to Reno.
As Pat looks back at her life with Virgil and the times she took care of him during the past few years because of his illness, she shared a poem she wrote about the time she met Virgil …
He loved those western boots
He had at least a dozen pair,
And even if they were not in fashion,
He wore them everywhere.
He would really charm the ladies
With such a smile and wink,
As he walked up to the bar to order
Scotch and milk, his famous drink.
He was a polished politician
He could really work a room
That is how I met him
At the Old Red Eyes Saloon.