Book must read for Carson City history buffs |Guy W. Farmer
December 4, 2016
My friend and Saturday morning coffee companion Bonnie Boice Nishikawa has written a "must read" book for everyone who's interested in Carson City history. "My Life as a 'Home' Kid" tells the bittersweet story of how Bonnie grew up as a "half-orphan" in the Nevada State Children's Home between 1942 and 1955, and her book features historic photos and vignettes that will remind many of my fellow seniors of a time before hordes of Californians moved here in an ongoing effort to turn our Old West capital city into Napa/Sonoma East.
"People need to know about the Children's Home," Bonnie told me. "I hope my book will help newcomers learn more about Carson City history. The Home where I grew up is an important chapter in that colorful history." She was inspired to write her book by Western Nevada College Prof. Emeritus Ursula Carlson, who taught a popular creative writing course before her retirement.
"She encouraged me to write a book about the Home," Bonnie said, adding it took 15 years to finish and publish her well-researched, 204-page book. In addition to Prof. Carlson, Bonnie credits a number of people for helping her along the way including Sue Ballew, longtime "Past Pages" author Bill Dolan's daughter, and her husband Gary; State Archivist Jeff Kintop; retired State Historian Ron James, and Bonnie's husband Kiyoshi. She dedicated her book to the memory of Ely natives Roland and Linda van der Smissen — "Mom and Pop Van" — compassionate superintendents who "made the Home a real home for all the children who needed one."
In 1869, only five years after Nevada became a state, the Legislature appropriated $12,000 to build and furnish a "State Orphans' Home" on 10 acres of land donated by Ormsby County. Bonnie, her sister Ella and brother Earl Jr. were born in Oakland but their mother died in 1941 when Bonnie was only 3-years-old. Their father, Earl Boice Sr., put them into an Oakland children's home because he was unable to work and care for his family. Later that year he moved his children to Reno, where they lived with their elderly grandmother, who had difficulty caring for three young children.
In 1942 Boice moved his kids into the Nevada Children's Home in Carson as "half-orphans." I can relate to Bonnie's story because I was born in the Salvation Army Children's Home in Portland, Ore.; fortunately, however, my mother took me out of the orphanage when I was still a baby. So the three young Boice kids grew up here and graduated from Carson High School when our town was the smallest state capital in the United States. The book's historic photos remind us of those bygone days.
For all intents and purposes Mom and Pop Van were Bonnie's parents during her formative years. She remembers them fondly, writing "they taught us responsibility, respect for our elders and the law, good work ethics, and how to get along with other children." She recalls summer picnics at Lake Tahoe and Christmas at the Home, where Santa delivered presents purchased by Harolds Club employees. "We browsed through Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs looking for what we hoped to get for Christmas — an article of clothing, a toy or a doll," Bonnie writes. The Home fondly known as "Sunny Acres" finally closed in 1992, when it was replaced by cottages.
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You can buy this book full of warm, loving memories for $30 by contacting the author at email@example.com or her publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take my word for it; this is an ideal Christmas gift for longtime Carson residents.
Guy W. Farmer has been a Carson City resident since 1962.