History a passion for Ron James, native Nevadan
Ron James’ passion for history and anthropology is evident.
Oak shelves filled with history books line the walls of his office at the State Office of Historic Preservation, where he has worked as historian and preservation officer for 20 years.
“We create the programs that shed light on Nevada’s past,” he said. “If we weren’t doing this work, we wouldn’t be getting the answers about our past. We improve the quality of life through historic preservation, in addition to attracting a few tourists. It’s a great opportunity and a lot of fun.”
A native Nevadan, James, 47, was at Reno’s St. Mary’s Hospital. His a police officer father died when he was young, and his mother still lives in the northwest Reno home where he grew up.
An accomplished trumpet player at Reno High School, he started playing in the rock band Jericho in 1970.
“We played at all the Greek (sorority and fraternity) dances, and we were busy every Friday and Saturday night,” he said. “We had to divide the money between about 12 musicians, so we didn’t make a lot. But we were pretty popular. We played a lot of music from Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears and cut a record in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun, for a high school student.”
James traded his trumpet for a set of bagpipes after high school, but never considered a career in music. He plays in the Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band, a group his father helped found.
Fascinated with anthropology since he was a boy, he majored in history and anthropology, with minors in English and psychology, at the University of Nevada, Reno.
In 1981, he earned a master’s degree in history with an emphasis in folklore, looking at oral traditions, like ballads, legends and myths passed from generation to generation. He spoke fondly of his college instructor and mentor, Sven Liljeblad.
“He was one of the last great folklorists, and at the time I was his last, and only, student,” he said. “Liljeblad ran an underground organization out of Copenhagen during World War II and fled Europe, a marked man, in 1939. He returned to Sweden in the 1990s and died at the age of 101 in 2000.”
James spent a year in Ireland on a fellowship, studying folklore at the University of Ireland in Dublin. He said his American accent separated him from the native Irish, so to blend in, he learned to speak in the local brogue.
“I was there long enough to go native and speak like an Irishman,” he said. “I realized I’d gone Irish when I was in a Dublin grocery store. Two women with prams were talking and blocking the doorway. A line of people were waiting to get out, but no one objected. Americans would have been yelling for them to move, but the Irish are different. We all have to be someplace, so we may as well be here.”
When he returned from Ireland, he taught history and folklore at the UNR. His book “Temples of Justice, the Roar and the Silence,” about Comstock history, was his doctoral dissertation, but he never completed that degree. He has written a number of books on other historic topics, including “Comstock Women, The Making of a Mining Community” and “Temples of Justice: County Courthouses of Nevada.”
He married Susan, in 1984. Their son, Reed, is a sophomore at Carson High School.
Historic Preservation oversees the disbursal of millions of federal dollars to rehabilitate historic structures, like Carson City’s Brewery Arts Center and Virginia City’s Fourth Ward School. It also funds archaeological digs, like the Boston Saloon dig in 2000 and Piper’s Old Corner Bar in 1999, both sites in Virginia City.