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This year we have lost two legendary UNLV faculty members.

In this edition, Eugene Moehring, who died early this year. Moehring taught at UNLV for forty years. He taught thousands of students, many of them still in Nevada.

His name also should be familiar even to those who did not have him for a class. It’s no exaggeration to say he was the leading scholar of the history of Las Vegas.

His first major book on the area was Resort City in the Sunbelt: Las Vegas, 1930 to 1970. He later updated it to go to 2000. No one else had published this kind of in-depth study of the city. He wrote, “As a sunbelt city, Las Vegas has exhibited many political and economic tendencies found in Phoenix, San Antonio, and other metropolises. As a resort city, Las Vegas has built a tourist infrastructure remarkably similar to those in Miami Beach and Honolulu. Nevertheless, much of Las Vegas’s historical development is typical not only of sunbelt, resort, and casino cities, but of all cities in general.” Then he showed how and why.

Moehring wrote other important works on our state. His book on western towns in the nineteenth century traced the development of places like Virginia City, Austin, and Eureka. He wrote a history of UNLV for the school’s fiftieth birthday in 2007 that showed how it rose from the desert. He lived a lot of that history. He came to UNLV in 1976, so he was here for a lot of it. He had a sense of that history: He was always proud that he was the successor on the faculty to John Wright, UNLV’s first full-time historian, and whose name is on the building where the history department is located.

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Moehring’s last book was called Reno, Las Vegas, and the Strip: A Tale of Three Cities. Southern Nevada’s most important business district isn’t within the city of Las Vegas, and he showed how the Strip and its surrounding area have the hallmarks of a city in its own right. He compared both with Reno to show how the northern and southern ends of the state developed both similarly and differently.

Moehring learned history from some of the best. He trained at the City University of New York with Richard Wade, a pioneer in the field of urban history and an adviser to several politicians. Moehring also co-edited books with another of his professors, Arthur Schlesinger, who had worked in the Kennedy White House. That gave Moehring the chance to tell stories about some odd political encounters.

Indeed, Moehring was quite a storyteller, as his students could attest. They voted him teaching awards, and he won others given by the university, as well as its highest research honor, the Harry Reid Silver State Research Award.

If these Nevada Yesterdays programs make sense, Moehring is one of the main reasons. Our author learned a lot from him about writing, and still has term papers with Moehring’s trademark labels with red ink saying how they SHOULD have been written. They also co-wrote a book, Las Vegas: A Centennial History. They dedicated the book to three important scholars and students of Las Vegas history: Gary Elliott, Ralph Roske, and the founding author of this program, Frank Wright. We all owe them a debt for expanding our knowledge of Nevada. We owe the same debt to Gene Moehring.

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KNPR's State of Nevada
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Feb 23, 2005