Bentley heads up WNDD
“I have been inspired by the determination of others to preserve the history of this area.”
Mary Lou Bentley
Western Nevada Development District
For quite some time after relocating from the Midwest to assume the executive directorship of WNDD, Mary Lou Bentley had to school herself against referring to the new organization she represented as the Western Nebraska Development District.
For 13 years prior to accepting a job with WNDD, Mary Lou served as Executive Director of the Panhandle Area Development District in the westernmost part of Nebraska.
“Nevada and Nebraska both started with an ‘N’ and had the same number of syllables,” recounts Mary Lou, intentionally stating the obvious. Although old habits die hard, Mary Lou quickly concluded that using these names interchangeably was not likely to endear her to the people in her newly adopted state.
Having been with WNDD now for eight years, May Lou is thoroughly conversant with the geographical area she represents and with the importance of the role her organization plays in such economic development efforts as the V&T Railroad reconstruction project.
“Most people don’t realize,” contends Mary Lou, “that the Western Nevada Development District is a voluntary, nonprofit association of local governments that receives no state funding. WNDD is supported by membership dues and by money from the U.S. Department of Commerce through a matching grant program.”
Operating with an annual budget of roughly $300,000, WNDD is involved in helping to promote such things as the development of new affordable housing, the expansion of infrastructure improvements and the creation of projects that will stimulate economic development.
In addition to the contractual work it performs for the Tricounty Railway Commission, WNDD has expended roughly $230,000 in grant money since 1993 to support the V&T Railroad reconstruction effort.
What criteria are used by WNDD to determine the worthiness of a project? According to Mary Lou, the extent to which a project is endorsed by local government is a critical determinant. The fact that the V&T project directly impacts three member counties and has the potential of attracting new tourists that could benefit all seven members of the district was a persuasive reason for WNDD to commit a significant percentage of its financial resources to the reconstruction of the railroad.
Mary Lou recalls vividly how WNDD first got involved with this historic undertaking.
“In 1922, I was approached by a consortium of people from Carson City government, the Storey County Commission, the V&T Historic Railroad Society and Bob Gray, the owner of the V&T short line. They had intended to hire television personality and railroad supporter John Tyson to promote the reconstruction effort but didn’t have the money. Since this was just the sort of economic development effort that the district tends to support, WNDD furnished the group with office space at no charge.”
It soon became apparent to Mary Lou, however, that a project of this magnitude and complexity would require professional staff. In 1993, WNDD hired Norm Williams to provide part-time staff support, first to the society, and eventually to the Tricounty Railway Commission.
Like so many who have participated in the struggle to resurrect the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and restore her to her former grandeur, Mary Lou has been smitten by the same vision that inspires others. “The V&T played such a huge role in the history of this region, if there is any way we can bring the dream of reconstruction to fruition, we will.”