Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
I’ll be excoriated – as I was a week or so ago for showcasing Dawn Bunker’s travails – but I can honestly say that after 78+ years on this rock, most of them with pen in hand, the star of today’s show is as close as I’ll ever get to posing the question to readers what the difference may be of a tavern, an elephant, er, breaking wind, and finally our featured guest today.
The answer is that the former is a BAR-room, the intervening is a bar-ROOOM, and our guest today is a BEAR-RUM.
Bill Berrum, to be precise. And Bill is featured because today is his birthday. He’ll never again be faced with that age-80-threshold. For today, he turns 81 (actually he did so just past midnight).
“I’d like to write about you,” said I last week, ever on the lookout for the grist of a good column.
He’s done it all in his scant eight decades – born into a family that owned and operated Moana Springs and its swimming pool ‘way out south of Reno on a road named Moana by a fellow freshly returned from Hawai’i in 1903. And Bill’s family also owned the permit to operate a streetcar, that ran between California Avenue to rural Moana Lane then took a left to the Moana Pool (and baseball park, home to the vaunted Reno Silver Sox baseball team). Grandpa Lou Berrum owned the operating rights, dad Lou operated the streetcar and son Lou (aka Bill) told me about it.
Bill is what most would refer to as a jock, in this case a swimming jock. We yakked and yakked some more about his ascension through to the pinnacle of the local YMCA, the one on Foster Drive. He rose to the Director of Athletics, responsible for the Y’s youth programs and the nascent Youth Basketball Association, a model for YBAs the nation-around.
“Did you know Patti Dillon (Cafferata) while you were there?” (I was kidding; we all knew Patti…the Y wouldn’t have endured without her presence and counsel.) Bill, ever the man with a story, fired back, “Treat (Cafferata, the lucky dude who would take Patti as his bride) was a star swimmer for Stanford U but I got him to swim for the Y team for a couple summers…”
Bill to this day has not lost his athletic prowess, but after matriculating at the U of Nevada for 30 or 40 years gained an affinity for business and its conduct, and served Washoe County and sheriff Vince Swinney for eight years, largely in the transition from the sheriff’s office on Sierra and Court Street to the new facility on Parr Boulevard, which was less a physical relocation than a total revamp of the way the County did business.
Bill then ran for and was elected Washoe County Treasurer (and would run successfully for three more terms). Somehow, he got mixed up along the way with Harry Spencer, Bob Carroll, Neal Cobb and Bud Beasley in 1994; they would put the God Old Days Club (the G.O.D. Club!) in motion at the Liberty Belle and Bill has served as its treasurer for 25 years, faithfully putting a postcard with the upcoming program in the mail to each member monthly (and I can’t remember him ever missing a month). Which in itself should qualify him for sainthood…
I asked Bill what stood out in his life were I to write a Berrum tale, and he had two highlights. One was, through a circuitous turn of events, being tapped to build a competitive swimming program for the Saudis, and spending almost two years in Saudi Arabia and taking 20 swimmers to the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics (none of them competed, but were treated like royalty). Which they were…
The other was Bill’s 10-year reunion for his 1957 Reno High School graduating class, held at the California Building, natch, a hoot-and-a-holler from the Idlewild Pool. Where Bill was a lifeguard, with no standby lifeguard to free him up. He described hearing the laughing voices of classmates – Alex Kanwetz, Frank Fahrenkopf, Ginny Berry (Topol), Norm Dianda, Sue Rauch (Schroeder), Luther Mack, Phyllis Johnson (Wetsel) and so many others drifting over while he manned his post and enabled the pool to remain open. But – that’s Bill. If you see him around, wish him a Happy Birthday, but remind him, be safe, huh?
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Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally.
Read more from Karl Breckenridge
Karl’s pal Jody shares the rich history of bootlegging, decorating, and engineering within the confines of the Truckee River’s banks and its picturesque islands.