Last time we talked about UNLV turning sixty and several campus institutions turning fifty. There’s another fiftieth anniversary this year: Great Basin College, based in Elko. There are some interesting parallels to the history of UNLV, too. Las Vegans pressed the legislature to create UNLV and then had to raise money locally and hold classes at the local high school. More than a decade after Las Vegas did that, Elko residents did much the same thing.
The original idea had been to have a technical college. Two residents, Fred Harris and Mark Chilton, provided land on the Mountain City highway nearby. It took the board of regents a few years to go along, but they finally did. Then some Elko businesspeople got together and decided to start raising the money themselves. According to a history of the college by Charles Greenhaw, who taught there for many years, the Elko group feared if the state was too involved, the money would go to Reno or Las Vegas. They took to calling themselves the Yo-Yo Club because they had so many ups and downs getting the college going. But they also heard from an official at an Oregon community college. He said creating a college would do two important things. One, it would be good for the community generally. Two, it would solve the problem of distance. Elko was at least 230 miles from the nearest four-year university. And this was before online classes. It was before online, for that matter.
They hired a founding president, Eugene Voris, who came from the college in Oregon. They needed funds and space, and didn’t have a lot of either. But when Nevada Community College—that was the name—opened on September 25, 1967, more than 300 enrolled. Governor Paul Laxalt tried to get the legislature to appropriate funds, working with Assemblyman Roy Young and State Senator Norm Glaser. The lawmakers wouldn’t do it. The universities didn’t like it. The local school district leadership feared it would divert funds from them.
On May 18, 1968, the Yo-Yo Club and other supporters had a meeting in Elko. Laxalt came to speak. He had campaigned for community colleges when he had run for governor and was concerned. Elko thought the recently renamed Elko Community College was going to die. Instead, Laxalt had a surprise: a quarter of a million dollar donation from someone who used to own land in the Elko area. Howard Hughes, then buying up a lot of Nevada, saved the school.
In 1973, Northern Nevada Community College, as it was known, had a new president, William Berg, who stayed for a decade and a half, followed by Ron Remington, who was there a dozen years. They brought stability when the school needed it. They expanded offerings, faculty, space, and buildings.
The name changed again, to Great Basin College. The school began offering some four-year degrees. GBC’s responsibilities have kept growing. Once it was the community college furthest from a four-year school. Now it has facilities as far away from Elko as Pahrump, and serves most of rural Nevada on the ground and through online classes. Enrollment is approaching five thousand. As Great Basin College turns fifty, it turns out the Yo-Yo Club produced a lot more ups than downs.
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