Local videographer to be honored
March 14, 2002
If there has been an event in Carson City in the last 12 years, chances are Jim Thorpe caught it on video.
“He has to tape everything,” said his wife, Mae. “It would drive me crazy looking through that little hole for hours.”
Nothing is safe from Thorpe’s video lens — family events, school graduations, city meetings, museum events, interviews and Christmas tree lightings. He especially loves filming the Nevada Day Parade, which at its longest was three hours, 18 minutes, he said.
Thorpe, 82, has more than 2,000 video tapes stored in a converted home behind his house, all labeled and stacked neatly in case anyone ever needs one. Every hour of his time spent behind his cameras has been volunteered. Every event, nearly every tape, every event broadcast across the airwaves on Carson Access Television comes at his cost.
“I like to do it,” he said. “It’s my hobby.”
He used to film mostly family events with his old 8mm camera, until 1985 when he became hooked on camcorders. He was instrumental in the formation of Carson City community television. He started taping Board of Supervisors meetings around 1990 and then playing back the tapes on CATV, which can be viewed on channels 10 and 26. People watch his videos, he said, because “they’re in them.”
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“They like to see what they looked like five, 10, 15 years ago when they still had hair,” he said.
Thorpe is about to be recognized for his contributions to Carson City.
The Carson City Library and Carson City Preservation Coalition will celebrate Jim Thorpe Day March 21 to honor the local historian and celebrate the completion of his oral history, said Eileen Cohen, of the preservation coalition.
“Isn’t that something, getting recognized for your hobby?” Thorpe said.
Bob Nylen, curator of history at the Nevada State Museum, said in 10 years with more than 100 of the museum’s lecture series to be recorded, Thorpe has missed only one.
“I have tremendous respect for him,” Nylen said. “He’s a real person. I’m impressed with someone willing to dedicate themselves. It’s been a wonderful thing for this community. We are a closer community because we learn more about what’s happening in our town.”
Without Thorpe’s support, the museum’s lecture series on local history and archeology would never reach the number of people it does, Nylen said. The videos run in Reno, Carson City, Dayton, Minden and Gardnerville.
“I’m indebted to him,” Nylen said. “My goal is to make people aware of Nevada history and our culture. I couldn’t do that without Jim.”
Thorpe’s life has been a study in industry and thrift. Born Dec. 7, 1919, in San Francisco, Thorpe had anything but an easy childhood. After his parents’ divorce he lived in a state home and eventually with his itinerant father, who Thorpe called a “hobo.”
The wandering life was fine “because I didn’t have to go to school.” When the family landed in Carson City in 1935, Thorpe enrolled himself in the eighth grade. He was encouraged to learn a trade instead and worked at a local garage with his father. While he never finished public school, he went to enough trade schools to get “an equivalent education.”
“You learn every day,” he said. “Even if you’re 82, you still learn.”
Drafted into the Navy during World War II, he spent four years in the service, most of it on the USS Tennessee. He was on the ship during the battle of Iwo Jima and survived many attacks by the Japanese. He witnessed the death of many of his fellow servicemen.
“If parents could see what happened, we wouldn’t have war,” he said.
After the war, he returned to California where he honed his skills as a barber, a trade he learned in the Navy. But Nevada called, and he returned to Carson City to work as a mechanic in his father’s new garage. Eventually, he went to work for the Nevada Army National Guard “doing everything except what my job title was” for $250 a month.
He spent 30 years with the National Guard, and $5 at a time built a mobile home park on property around his Lone Mountain Drive home. He built the family home off Lone Mountain Drive in 1947 and added to it as the family grew. The Thorpes are the parents of Mike, of Concho, Ariz., and Susan Nelson, of Carson City.
Nelson said her father has been accused of only watching Channel 10 and then criticizing himself on his shots. If nothing else, Nelson is a professional at having her picture taken. Around history so much as a child, she has been preserving her father’s history since she was 12.
Thorpe admits he’s slowing down. He can’t run anymore, and even has to rely on a cane occasionally to walk. He’s down to shooting about three events a week instead of daily. He is too shaky to hold the camera anymore, so he uses a tripod. He plans to transfer his video collection to DVDs and donating the collection to the library.
As long as he’s able, he will continue to devote time to recording the events of the community he loves, he said.
“Carson City is probably the best place I’ve ever lived,” he said. “Now, only if they could keep all the cars out of here.”
IF YOU GO
What: Jim Thorpe Day, a celebration presented by the Carson City Library and Carson City Preservation Coalition
When: 5:30 p.m. March 21
Where: Carson City Library, 900 N. Roop St.
Call 887-2244 for information.