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Robert Alan Cashell Sr.

Robert Alan Cashell Sr. Obituary
Robert Alan Cashell Sr.

Reno - Robert Alan Cashell Sr. — known to thousands of admirers as "Mayor Bob" during his three consecutive terms as Reno mayor, 2002-2014, and who also served as lieutenant governor and built a humble truck stop in Verdi into the Boomtown Hotel Casino — passed away from natural causes on Feb. 11. He was 81.

A self-made, energetic and irrepressibly optimistic man, Cashell parlayed close friendships forged through coaching youth football with prominent Reno lawyers Bob McDonald and Don Carano into his first business opportunity — buying a small diner, Bill & Effie's Café and Truck Stop. Putting in the sweat equity as manager, Cashell built it into Boomtown, eventually bought out his partners and sold in 1988.

Cashell also made a big mark in politics. A long-time civic booster with his wife, Nancy, he won the mayoral office in 2002 in a landslide vote, and repeated his electoral success twice as an incumbent. Among his achievements as mayor were successfully bringing to fruition long-delayed city projects, including establishing a permanent city homeless shelter and renovating the downtown river corridor. Often using his connections with key casino owners and high-level politicians, Cashell worked his glib Texas drawl to great effect in securing the necessary support for those projects and others.

Cashell also served as Nevada's lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1987. Elected as a Democrat, he caused a stir when he switched to the Republican party after Nevada U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt set up a private meeting with President Ronald Reagan. Cashell later explained he couldn't resist Reagan's magnetism. Despite the change in parties, he worked with the Democratic Gov. Richard Bryan to create the Nevada Commission on Economic Development and the Nevada Commission on Tourism — both of which Cashell subsequently chaired.

Feisty and hard charging, Cashell's first venture into public politics had been running for University of Nevada Board of Regents, which he won in 1979 and soon after was named board chairman. During his regents tenure, he helped pave the way for Joe Crowley to become university president and Chris Ault to become head coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack football team. Both men enjoyed lengthy, distinguished careers as the university, like the city of Reno, quickly grew.

With a store of seemingly inexhaustible energy, the burly, plain-speaking Cashell managed to devote a tremendous amount of time to community involvement despite his business dealings and intermittent political posts. As he told an interviewer several years ago: "Practically from the moment my wife, Nancy, and I settled in Reno as newlyweds in 1964 after moving from Texas, we got involved in our new community. I coached Pop Warner football on weekends off from my job with Humble Oil. Nancy caught on with the Washoe County School District as a teacher of disabled children and, as we raised our four children, she volunteered in the arts community, sitting on the boards of the Nevada Museum of Art, Nevada Humanities Committee, and Nevada Women's Fund. We helped found YMCA Youth Soccer in Reno, and became big boosters for University of Nevada, Reno athletics."

Robert Alan Cashell was born in the East Texas oil-boom town of Longview on April 22, 1938, the fourth of five children of Julia Fox Cashell and James Bethel "Pete" Cashell — a scrappy man who rose from being a risk-taking lease hound in the wild West Texas oilfields to a high-ranking salesman of Burford Oil Company. Bob "Boots" Cashell was a fun-loving youth who preferred hustling for dollars in part-time jobs to excelling in the classroom. Nevertheless, he managed - under his father's pressure - to graduate from Stephen F. Austin State University with a business degree. After a two-year U. S. Air Force stint, he served for a short time as a bill collector for an automobile-loan lender, often working out extended pay arrangements with borrowers, yet sometimes hotwiring a vehicle to repossess it. Looking for a more stable job, he embarked on a career as a junior executive with Humble Oil, a predecessor to Exxon.

Cashell drove trucks and learned the business from the ground up about gasoline grades, service-station products and buying or leasing stations. Scraping pennies and seeking a fresh territory to move up the company ranks, he secured a transfer to Reno in 1964. He and his newlywed wife, Nancy Parker Cashell, moved into a small apartment near Idlewild Park.

One evening after work, a restless Cashell left the apartment, beckoned by the sounds of shouting youths in the park. There he discovered a Pop Warner youth football team practicing. A high school football star in his own right, Cashell quickly volunteered his coaching services. Soon, he'd forged a fast and enduring friendship with lawyers Don Carano and Bob McDonald, whose sons played on the team.

Disenchanted with the rigid corporate structure of his employer, Cashell talked Carano and McDonald into backing him to buy out the owner of Bill & Effie's Café & Truck Stop in Verdi, which was set along what would soon be Interstate 80. As Cashell recalled many years later, he was so green when it came to finance, he wondered, "How many zeros are in one million dollars?"

He put in exhausting hours managing the truck stop — renamed Boomtown Hotel Casino in 1972 — not only hiring and managing employees but pouring coffee and pumping gas on occasion. He aimed to grow the business as large as possible, despite the challenge of finding investment capital for his big schemes. His ambition was noted by First Interstate Bank of Nevada president Ernie Martinelli — who became a key supporter. Martinelli frequently chided Cashell for making impetuous moves, although he continued approving loans for the gung-ho entrepreneur's constant expansions.

"I had big dreams but small pockets," Cashell recalled in his memoir published in 2010 — "Call Me Mayor, or Anything You Like: My Life as a Lone Star Son in the Silver State." "Ernie was what we call today 'old school,'" Cashell wrote. "He gauged potential. He relied on gut instinct. The human factor weighed heavily in his decisions."

Cashell had put up all the Boomtown property as collateral for bank loans. In one clash, Martinelli was his guest at Boomtown's annual Truckers Bar-B-Q, and realized something was amiss among the fresh asphalt and gleaming guardrails and curbs in the parking lot. When it dawned on him that the motel on the property had vanished, he angrily demanded an explanation. Cashell explained he'd had the motel leveled to create more parking space for the casino. As Cashell told in his memoir: "It was too late for Ernie to withdraw the loan. He knew he had to go along with me."

In Boomtown's early years, Cashell occasionally ignored building regulations by not waiting for permits while steadily expanding the truck stop with more casino area, a larger parking lot and, finally, a hotel. His family was also growing. He and Nancy had four children: Robert Jr., James Patrick, Catherine and Jane. He is survived by them as well as daughter-in-law Ermelinda Cashell, son-in law Dan Mannikko, and grandchildren Julia and Louis Cashell, Emily, Lauren, Sarah and Megan Mannikko, Quinn Kincannon, and Catherine and Nancy Hall.

Cashell was known for his generosity and fierce loyalty to family and friends, who typically called him by the nickname from his youth, "Boots." Whenever an old classmate at Longview High School phoned, Cashell took the call despite his hectic schedule. After the Boomtown sale in 1988, he handsomely rewarded the key employees who'd stuck with him for many years.

Cashell's own business fortunes after the Boomtown sale took a disastrous hit after his next big venture — the Horseshoe Club casino on North Virginia Street — was a bust. Scrambling to recover, he took on jobs as a traveling casino consultant and manager and became known as "Mr. Fix It" for turning around fortunes of casinos in northern and southern Nevada, including Karl's Silver Club in Sparks, the Bourbon Street Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Avi Resort & Casino in Laughlin.

Cashell's oldest son, Rob, partnered with his father in Cashell Enterprises. Rob steered the building of another truck-stop casino on I-80 — the Alamo Casino & Travel Center in Sparks. Cashell Enterprises, for which the elder Cashell served as chairman, also owns Topaz Lodge in southern Douglas County and the Winners Inn & Casino, Pete's Gambling Hall, and Sundance Casino in Winnemucca.

Cashell gave up his consulting business to serve as Reno mayor upon election in 2002. He explained to an interviewer why he ran for the office: "I saw that my city needed 'fixing' — from renovating our downtown core to luring new businesses to addressing chronic social ills. I was proud that with support from private foundations and cooperation from the Reno City Council, the city was able to overcome twenty years of inertia and establish the Community Assistance Center — the city's first homeless-assistance campus — offering shelters for men, women and families, and providing food, medical and detoxification services, counseling and rehabilitation for homeless people seeking to become self-supporting.

"Making a positive impact on one's community takes tremendous effort by dedicated citizens, and I am proud to have joined many panels striving to better the quality of life in Reno and Nevada, including the Regional Planning Governing Board, Regional Transportation Commission, Truckee River Flood Management Authority, and Reno/Tahoe Olympic Organizing Committee for the Winter Olympic Games."

His legacy also includes the Robert Cashell Fieldhouse, named for him as the principle donor for the building that serves as the command center for the University of Nevada football team.

Cashell's many public appointments included chairing the Nevada Comprehensive Health Planning Board, the Reno/Tahoe Olympic Organizing Committee for the Winter Olympic Games, and the Nevada Museum of Art. He served on the Regional Planning Governing Board, the Regional Transportation Commission, and the Truckee River Flood Management Authority.

During his tenure as mayor, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks through downtown were lowered, and Aces Ballpark (now Greater Nevada Field) was built on Evans Avenue east of downtown to accommodate a new franchise in town — the Reno Aces AAA ball club. Many other developments came to downtown, including the Palladio condominium tower, the Montage condominium tower that replaced the former Flamingo Reno hotel-casino downtown, and the West Street Market. However, the nationwide recession that struck during Cashell's final term short-circuited other big plans for revitalizing the downtown core and neighboring districts.

An indefatigable booster for Reno and its economy, Cashell was credited with turning a divided Reno City Council into a more cohesive governing body. He was known to return late at night to his mayor's office on the southwest corner of the top floor of the Reno City Hall skyscraper on East First Street to tend to unfinished paperwork. He was also known to be approachable to the average citizen on the street.

In his memoir, Cashell shared life lessons in his folksy manner:

• "As you climb the ladder of success, treat people right. Because you might come down that ladder again."

• "If you practice what your mommy and daddy taught you between ages one and twelve — meaning, speaking politely ('Yes, ma'am,' 'No, ma'am'), being honest, treating people the way you want to be treated — hell, you can get along real well in this world. If you don't learn how to treat people the way you want to be treated — if you don't practice the Golden Rule, and if you are dishonest — well, it doesn't take long for people to catch on. Then you'll have a reputation for being an exploiter and a liar."

• "Respect is based upon your honesty, your integrity, and your word. If you tell people you're gonna do something — do it. If you can't do it, you can still call them up and say, 'Hey, I screwed up, I can't do what I said I would.' People understand that. But if you cut corners, and be dishonest and try to get an angle on people, you can't succeed in the end. Maybe you'll skate by for a short time, but life's generally not a short trip. It's generally a long trip. A lot can, and will, happen."

A rosary will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19 at Our Lady of the Snows, located at 1138 Wright St. in Reno. A celebration of life will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 20 at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, 100 Bishop Manogue Dr., with a reception immediately following at the Downtown Reno Ballroom, located at 401 N. Center St.

Should anyone wish to make a memorial contribution, the family has designated two organizations close to Cashell's heart - Carmelite Monastery, c/o Sister Maria,1950 LaFond Dr. Reno, NV 89509 or the Volunteers of America Family Shelter, 335 Record St. Reno NV 89512 c/o Linda Grace.
Published in Reno Gazette-Journal from Feb. 13 to Feb. 16, 2020
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