Bill Ferris – a man who’s accomplished a lot in life
Bill Ferris is a man who gets things done.
He’s done everything from opening the Sahara Tahoe way back when to putting up the parking garage at the Ormsby House to getting the Pinon Plaza built “from scratch” and much more.
We’ll talk about that with Bill after we visit with one of the neatest guys I know and a man I’ve been friends with for more than 20 years.
Bill, who was born and raised in Oakland, turns 65 June 3. He and Sharon – she’s 55 and was born in Fort Hustis, Va., – have been married for 26 years. They married right here in Carson City.
“Sharon and I raised eight kids in our blended family,” said Bill proudly as we began our visit. “Five boys and three girls and we have 12 grandkids. All of our children live in Nevada except Tim, who is a U.S. Navy Seal stationed in San Diego, and Johnny, who works in construction in California. Our daughter Angel lives in Phoenix, Ariz.”
One son, Tony, is a friend too and he works with his dad as assistant chief engineer for Capital City Entertainment. Bill is chief engineer there.
Bill and Sharon are both related to some famous people.
“Sharon’s dad Butch was Roy Rogers’ first cousin,” said Bill. “His mother and Roy’s mother were sisters.
“Sharon is the oldest of seven. The first six were girls. Butch passed away a couple of years ago at age 82. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor. Her mom Roberta is 82 and lives in Costa Mesa, California.”
Bill’s dad, Bill, was 72 when he passed away in 1981. His mom, Lois, is 86 and lives in Oakland.
“Mom and Del Webb were cousins,” said Bill. “Dad was a longshoreman and a bricklayer in Oakland. My younger brother Barry is 60 and just retired from being athletic director and basketball coach at Oakland High School. He did that for over 40 years. My sister Lynnea lives in Seattle.”
The family moved to Carson City in 1973 from Lake Tahoe. Bill opened the Sahara Tahoe – now the Biltmore – in 1965. When he came here, he opened a small plumbing business on Fifth Street. Then in 1978 he went to work for the MGM Grand in Reno, now the Reno Hilton. He was director of engineering there and also the boxing coordinator. That’s when we first met.
“I put on the first professional fight card ever there and set up training camps, oversaw press conferences and babysat a lot of fighters,” he said. “I worked with many fighters and worked the corner of many fights, including two world championship fights. I worked Tyrone “Butterfly” Crawley’s corner when he fought Livingstone Bramble at the Grand and I worked Colin Jones corner when he fought Milt McCrory.”
Bill held a Nevada boxing manager and second’s license then.
“We promoted fights too,” he added. “I held that license for 10 years.”
In 1984, Bill became the chief engineer at the Ormsby House. By chance, I was working at the Ormsby House then and Bill and I spent many hours visiting and talking boxing in his office there. In that time period, Bill and then-Ormsby House owner Woody Loftin made the plans and built the parking garage at the Ormsby House.
“We turned the first shovelful of dirt back then,” recalled Bill. “I was also the first one ever to set up a boxing ring and training camp on a casino floor. I put on a lot of fight cards at the Ormsby House. I enjoyed it and have some great memories.”
His office at the Ormsby House then, and now at the Pinon Plaza, has plenty of fight photos and posters on the walls
“You took most of those photos and gave me a lot of fight posters too,” he added with a smile. “And we’ll get some more because I plan to put on a fight card or two here at the Pinon Plaza. I plan to bring a world championship fight to Carson City. After all, it’s been 103 years since Carson City hosted a world title fight.”
A little trivia here: Can you name that world title fight Bill just mentioned?
PION PLAZA PLANS
In addition to bringing in fight cards to the Plaza, Bill is currently building Phase 2 of the Plaza’s hotel expansion.
Before the Plaza opened in July of 1995, Bill had me out there one day and all I saw was a bunch of dirt and building materials, but Bill saw much more.
He pointed to a mound of dirt and said, “That’s where the bowling alley will be,” and he turned around to show me another mound of dirt where the casino and bar would be. He showed me the blueprints of the inside of the Plaza.
Today there is a 32-lane bowling alley where all that dirt was and you can see what he has accomplished as the Plaza has been going strong ever since.
“I then built – with a lot of help – our 70-space RV park and that took a year to build,” said Bill. “Carson City’s Shaw Construction was the contractor.”
Next up was the Plaza hotel. Bill oversaw and helped build Phase I of the hotel, a 64-room wing with convention facilities.
“We broke ground on Nov. 14, 1997, and finished in June of 1998,” said Bill as we walked around the property.
“Now we are building an 84-room, three-story addition with convention rooms. It will be about 51,000 square feet. We broke ground in November of last year and it should be completed the first of June of this year. This is the second largest project I ever built. In 1981 I built the new hotel wing for the MGM. It was a 27-story, 1,001 room addition. I like doing things like that.”
Now that you are approaching 65, any thoughts of retirement?
“When I’m through with this expansion I’m thinking about retiring from being chief engineer,” he said candidly. “I would like to do special projects for Clark Russell like remodeling, putting on boxing shows and doing things like that. No set date yet but maybe sometime next winter.”
THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT
“You aren’t going to tell them about that birthday, are you?”
That’s what Bill wanted to know. And I informed him I was, indeed, going to tell you about his 50th birthday party.
It was an eight-hour “birthday bash” at Bowers Mansion. There were dozens of guests, including yours truly, and the highlight of the party was when a female Devil arrived, but I’ll let Sharon tell you more as she was the one who planned and put together the party.
“We were all in a circle with Bill in the middle and we were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him when the Devil popped up in costume,” said a laughing Sharon. “Bill just picked her up and carted her off into the woods. It was funny and we all had a good laugh afterward.”
By the way, Sharon is working for Home Depot. She works the Special Services counter for them and will be in their Douglas County store when it opens Feb. 3.
“I’ve already started for them by working in the Reno Home Depot and getting my training there,” said Sharon. “Home Depot is a good company to work for and the people are very nice. I’m looking forward to the opening of our store in Douglas County.”
— Time for me to get going but not before I tell you that on our Street Talk TV show tonight from 6-7 o’clock on CAT-10, we’ll travel to the Roy Rogers mini-museum in Mound House to see plenty of Sharon’s cousin and memorabilia and also show you a clip from one of Roy’s old TV shows.
P.S. The world title fight that took place 103 years ago was the Corbett-Fitzsimmons heavyweight fight on March 17, 1897, on a field where the Carson City Sheriff’s Department now sits.
ALAN ROGERS is a Nevada Appeal columnist. His message phone is 887-2430, ext. 402.