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Yerington’s grammar school turned house of the arts binds this Mason Valley community.
Photo: Matthew B. Brown (above & below)
If you want a taste—literally—of the Dini legacy in Yerington, make reservations at the Jeanne Dini Cultural Center on Friday, September 9.
As a kickoff to the Taste of the Valley Art & Blues Festival, the next day, guests can indulge in a special Ravioli Night in honor of the late Jeanne Dini. “It ties to the Italian heritage in our valley and to our guardian angel who watches over us,” says Debbie Arrighi, executive director of the Yerington Theatre for the Arts. “She’s gone now, but this is her baby.”
Jeanne Dini died in 1994, but before that she was instrumental in restoring the building that now bears her name in golden letters. In the early 1980s, Dini, her husband, Joe, and others in the community couldn’t accept the disheveled condition of the former Yerington Grammar School No. 9 that had been boarded up since 1978. Joe Dini himself attended the school, which opened in 1912.
As Speaker of the Assembly, Joe used his political influence to find funding for the restoration project, which officially got off the ground in 1988. After a decade of fundraising and legislation spearheaded by the Dinis, the Jeanne Dini Cultural Center opened its doors in January 1998.
Also known as the Yerington Theatre for the Arts, the building is home to a diverse mix of performing, literary, and visual arts—on par with such rural Nevada cultural coliseums as Fallon’s Oats Park Art Center and the Eureka Opera House. “What people will find in this center are international and world-class quality performances in a very small community with your neighbors sitting next to you,” Arrighi says. “If you come to one of the performances here, you’re going to have a really intimate show.”
Not only does the community look forward to attending touring concerts and plays in the 150-seat theater, many have performed on the center’s stage, including Jeanne and Joe’s son, Jay. “To preserve something like this is a great thing,” Jay says. “My children and grandchildren watch plays here.”
In addition to the stage and theater, the center contains two art galleries—one upstairs and another connected to the downstairs Café at the Center, a quaint breakfast and lunch spot serving such delicacies as the Jeanne Club and Aileen’s Special Baklava. Through September 30, Lobby Gallery goers can enjoy a Photo Retrospective, and from October 3 to November 18, Native American craftsmanship will be on display in the Landing Gallery.
What has kept the center going strong for nearly 15 years are its annual events, starting with September’s Taste of the Valley Art & Blues Festival. “One of the unique things about Taste of the Valley is the local farmers and ranchers come in—the garlic farmers and onion farmers—and they’ll have a booth that’ll feature their products,” Jay says.
“Last year Snyder Livestock [Company] did caramelized onion toppings with cheesecake,” Arrighi adds. “It was delicious! People really went for it.” In addition to delectable local foods, there are numerous art vendors mixed with a great lineup of live blues bands.
In December, the center hosts Las Posadas, a Hispanic celebration of the holidays featuring a dazzling candlelight procession and traditional caroling. January features On the Trail to Elko, on the heels—or spurs—of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in the northeastern Nevada city of the same name. The Yerington gathering is highlighted by a western silent auction and live music.
May is about celebrating the community, as the center puts on Notes to Our Children, a gathering of Yerington elders across all cultures. The longtime residents offer advice to coming generations and tell stories about their youth: “I used to ride my horse to school, and the horse knew the way home,” says Arrighi, echoing the sort of memory that might be overheard at Notes to Our Children. “A lot of communities don’t have that because people have moved on.”
If you happen to go downtown, you’ll see another testament to the Dini legacy in Dini’s Lucky Club, the oldest continuous family-owned casino in Nevada, according to Jay. His grandfather, Giuseppe, opened the establishment in 1933. Joe Dini, 82, can still be seen almost daily at Dini’s, where he comes in to check in on his sons, George and Jay, now the third generation to own Dini’s Lucky Club.
It’s only fitting, then, that one of Nevada’s most influential couples has their names on two buildings, reminding residents and visitors of their important contributions to the town of Yerington.
Yerington Grammar School No. 9 will celebrate its centennial in 2012. Yerington Theatre for the Arts is searching for alumni and will be conducting a Friends of YGS No. 9 membership drive.
Yerington Theatre for the Arts
at Jeanne Dini Cultural Center
120 N. California St., Yerington
Café at the Center:
Open Tues. to Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Jeanne Dini Ravioli Night, Sept. 9
Taste of the Valley Art & Blues Festival, Sept. 10
Third Thursdays at The Center Gallery, Sept. 15 & Oct. 20
Bottom Line Duo, Oct. 7
Colin Ross & Mig O’Hara Unplugged, Nov. 4