Noted Nevada author, rancher, regent dies
Molly Flagg Knudtsen, a noted Nevada rancher and former university system regent, died Tuesday in Reno after an extended illness. She was 85.
Knudtsen served for 20 years between 1960 and 1980 as the rural representative to the University and Community College System, the sixth woman to be elected as a Nevada regent.
Knudtsen championed the development of state community colleges, the Desert Research Institute, the anthropology department at the University of Nevada, Reno and an expansion of the College of Agriculture.
“She was a really outstanding regent,” said Judge Proctor Hug, of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who served with Knudtsen as a regent. “She brought a special quality to the board. She was truly a remarkable and very outstanding woman who contributed a great deal to the university system and the state.”
The Knudtsen Resource Center at UNR was named in her honor in 1979. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in anthropology in 1975 from the university and a Distinguished Nevadan Award from the Board of Regents in 1994.
While Knudtsen is known as a distinguished Nevadan, her roots couldn’t be any farther from her beloved Grass Valley Ranch, located just east of Austin.
“She was an extraordinary woman,” said C.J. Hadley, publisher of Range Magazine. “She seemed so upper class and so country at the same time. She seemed like a star in a simple world.”
Molly Flagg was born Sept. 15, 1915 in New York City, the stepdaughter of an international spy. She spent her early life “living out of a trunk,” as she and her mother followed her stepfather around the world.
She attended private schools, heading firmly toward the life of a socialite. She made her formal debut in 1933 in New York City and was presented the following spring at the Court of St. James in London.
An early marriage failed and Knudtsen headed West following the horse racing circuit which eventually brought her to Nevada. She met Richard Magee at the Grass Valley Ranch, where Magee raised thoroughbred horses. They were married in 1942.
Knudtsen became involved in preservation activities in Austin, fighting to save several landmarks including Stokes Castle, which she eventually purchased as a way to save the historic structure. Archeological sites on the ranch sparked her interest in the field, and she eventually helped found the Nevada Archaeological Survey in 1968, a joint program between the university system and the Nevada State Museum.
Knudtsen and Magee had one son, William. The couple divorced in 1969, and she purchased the ranch from Magee. She later married Bill Knudtsen and they continued to operate the ranch until a near-fatal horse accident in 1987. She ran the ranch from Reno while she recovered, but eventually Knudtsen sold her prized, purebred Hereford cattle in 1994 and the ranch in 1995.
Ron Pardini, assistant director of the Nevada Agriculture Experiment Station, worked with Knudtsen for years during her service to the agriculture college. He noted she was like a grandmother to the college, offering great financial and emotional support. Early on in his career with the university, Pardini was studying eye cancer in cattle, a subject which interested Knudtsen. She had a ranch full of Hereford cows, some with eye cancer, and let Pardini conduct an experiment on her herd.
“Unlike any other ranch we’d been on, she called the cows by name and they came in the chute,” he said. “She didn’t want anyone using electrical shots or anything. It was amazing. Here was this cowgirl, and she had her chaps on, and her western shirt, and these elegant earrings. We were out working the chutes and she had earrings on, ones that dangled. She was a lady in the finest sense of being elegant.”
Hug noted Knudtsen was “a ranch person, but a very sophisticated lady.”
“She would come into my office sometimes, often in transition wearing jeans and boots, hauling a fur coat behind her to wear for dinner,” Hug said. “Then she’d speak French to the waiters. She was a combination I’ve never seen before.”
As an author, Knudtsen drew on Nevada’s rich heritage and landscape for her poetry, multiple magazine articles and two books, “Here is Our Valley” and “Under the Mountain.”
She is survived by her husband, Bill, of Oregon, and son, William Magee, daughter-in-law Sally, and grandsons William and Dean, all of Dallas Texas.
Private interment will be in Reno’s Mountain View Cemetery. A memorial service will be at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15 at UNR’s Nightingale Concert Hall and at 4 p.m., Aug. 16 at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno. For further information or to make donations in Knudtsen’s name, call 784-6969 or 784-1582.
A memorial service for Molly Flagg Knudtsen will be 10 a.m., Aug. 15 at UNR’s Nightingale Concert Hall and at 4 p.m., Aug. 16 a the Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno. For information or to make donations in Knudtsen’s name, call 784-6969 or 784-1582.