90 years to celebrate | NevadaAppeal.com

90 years to celebrate

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal John Zalac grins during his 90th birthday party with his family.

John Zalac’s home in Carson City is crammed with mementos, the walls brimming with items from his 90 years.

Zalac remembers the story behind each one of them, from the 150-year-old French music box to the couch from the Governor’s Mansion that is adorned with the state seal. Not to mention the more than 50 historic photographs showing everything from main street Las Vegas circa 1930 to the Fallon court house, the St. Charles Hotel and main street in Lovelock.

Zalac spent Saturday surrounded by what he calls his best memento – his family. The majority of his four daughters, nine grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren gathered because on Thursday, Zalac turned 90.

“Today feels no different that 10 years ago,” Zalac said. “The secret is to stay away from hospitals and doctors. I’ve spent three days in my whole life in the hospital, and for those three days, I didn’t think I was ever getting back out.”

Zalac was born Feb. 8, 1917, in Virginia City. He grew up knowing the names of everyone in town and was a member of the last class to graduate from the Fourth Ward School.

“Virginia City was a different town. Everyone was like a part of your family. Now I go up there and don’t know anybody,” Zalac said.

Zalac remembers when Geiger Grade was being built and the vehicles had to go up backwards because they didn’t have fuel pumps.

In 1942, while he was working in the mines, Zalac was drafted and sent to boot camp. After boot camp he was sent home, told there was a shortage of copper miners and he was needed there.

Two years later, he was called up and again sent to boot camp, then on to Baltimore where he was put in counterintelligence and began to learn Russian.

“Now, all I remember is how to say ‘hello’ in Russian. It has 13 letters in it,” Zalac said.

After being discharged, Zalac ran the Delta Saloon in Virginia City and in 1955 he opened the Sharon House over the Ponderosa Saloon.

“He has been my idol since I met him,” said Dennis Greco, Zalac’s son-in-law. “I first met the family in 1955, and he’s just a very interesting man.”

Zalac’s daughter Gloria said she has a lot of good memories of her dad, but she always remembers their weekly trips to Reno for her music lessons.

“He always took me from Virginia City to Reno, so we had milkshakes and hamburgers and banana splits. It was a good incentive for me to learn because I got a day with my dad,” Gloria said.

In 1964, along with several partners, Zalac bought a golf course that occupies what is now Mills Park.

He ran the course until 1972, when he retired. In 1990, he celebrated his 50th anniversary with his wife, Lydia, who died about a decade ago.

Zalac said the only thing he wishes he could do was play golf, but admitted there are a couple of problems.

“I would like to play golf, but I have arthritis in my back and can’t stand very long,” Zalac said. “And all of the guys I used to golf with have passed away.”

As for presents, Zalac said he is just happy to have his family around him and a cold can of Budweiser in his hand.

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.