From Pizen Switch to Distinguished Nevadan

Author: 
Nancy Cummings

My mother, Ruthe Deskin, a third generation Nevadan was born in Yerington, Nevada, once known as Pizen Switch. Through the years, she was fondly referred to by others as “the girl from Pizen Switch.” 

During her school years in Yerington, she served as the editor of the high school newspaper, and captain of the championship girls’ basketball team. Her best friend Mugs (Marjorie Guild Russell) nicknamed her Cutie which stuck throughout high school.

When she graduated from high school, her father moved the family into Reno as he was determined to have his children attend college.           

She graduated from UNR in 1937 with a degree in journalism. She had a deep respect and admiration for Professor Higginbotham, the Chairman of the Journalism Department  This was in spite of the fact he felt women would have a most challenging time establishing a career in journalism.

After graduation, she married Elwin Jeffers. They had two daughters, Nancy and Terry. Elwin worked for the Nevada State Employment Department in the Lovelock office. Ruthe remained a stay at home mom.  He was transferred to the Las Vegas office and the family lived there until the World War II broke out. Elwin joined the Navy and Ruthe loaded her two children in an old ford and headed back to Reno.

Shortly thereafter, she took a job in Herlong, California at the Army Ordinance Depot, where she was the Director of Employee Relations. Her job included putting out the base newspaper, the Challenge.

Later, she became the society editor for the Reno Evening Gazette. After the war, she and Elwin divorced. In 1947, she married James Deskin. Jim, employed by the state of Nevada Employment Department, was transferred to the Las Vegas office. The family moved into a home in Henderson.

Jim was working on a work program for the city and was assigned to do a radio piece about the program. Ruthe actually wrote the script for him. When the manager of the radio station KENO read it, he was so impressed that he asked Jim if she would like to go to work for the station, and she did.

She went on to work for KLAS radio where she had a 15 minute radio program called “Southern Nevada Today.” She really enjoyed that because as she later stated,” I was only a voice and nobody was looking at me, and I liked it that way.”  My sister and I did commercials for her, and would often race from school at noon time to the station where we would do the live commercials as well as get to watch our mother interview such celebrities as Liberace and Glen Ford. 

Later she went to work for Art Force who ran an advertising agency. Their office was in the El Cortez Hotel. When she was approached by Hank Greenspun, the editor and owner of the Las Vegas Sun to edit the Sunday edition of the newspaper, she turned the offer down because she was making more money with Art and his agency. Much to her surprise, Hank upped the ante, and made her an offer she decided to accept. Her first months at the Sun were quite different for her. She wasn’t absolutely certain what her position was and why they thought they needed her. She did express to family members that she wasn’t sure she had made the right decision.

Then one day Hank landed in the hospital.  Ruthe made sure that he was kept up to date with frequent memos. When Hank got back to the paper, he asked her to continue writing them. This was the start of “Memo to Hank” which became her signature piece. At this point her newspaper career took off. She remained with the Las Vegas Sun for 50 years retaining the title Assistant to the Publisher. She had a steady stream of fans through the years who read her columns religiously.

Besides writing a column and her duties as Hank’s assistant, she found time to become very active in the community. When Hank envisioned a forum for youth, Ruthe took on the challenge of coordinating what has become an annual event, the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum. She was a champion for children and served on the Clark County Juvenile Services Board for many years. She was also one of the founders of Child Haven. Ruthe was installed as the first woman president of the Las Vegas Press Club in 1953. She also has a school named after her in Las Vegas. In 1980, the University Board of Regents named her a Distinguished Nevadan.

My mother was an extremely modest person who did not seek the limelight. However she often found herself in it anyway because of her accomplishments and her passion for the causes in which she so deeply believed.

Ruthe Deskin, was a voice of reason, a champion for the young and vulnerable, compassionate and caring, true to her ideals and convictions–---through the power of her pen as well as the way she lived her life.

 

Las Vegas Sun billboard featuring Ruthe and Kenny Jones, long time Sun photographer. 

Read more about Ruthe in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly; Volume 55, 2012:  Where She Stands: Ruthe Deskin written by Kimberly Wilmot Voss and Lance Speere.

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