WINNEMUCCA, Nev. — Eleven Nevadans whose zeal for developing tourism has made a difference in rural communities around the state were honored Thursday with VolunTourism Awards, including a posthumous tribute, at the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s (NCOT) 20th Rural Roundup conference.

“Volunteers are vital to promoting tourism in rural Nevada because they care deeply about enhancing their community’s tourism attractions, and their work is a labor of love,” Lt. Gov. Brian K. Krolicki, NCOT chair, said. “We are very proud of our devoted rural tourism volunteers, we appreciate their fine work, and these awards are our way of thanking them.”

Nevada’s six tourism territories selected the VolunTourism recipients, and one award was given posthumously, to the late Gene Kaplan of Wells, who died in 2008. In addition, four outstanding individuals who have contributed decades of hard work received Tourism Lifetime Achievement awards.

            In addition to the tourism awards, Brittany Masin, 17, an Incline Village High School senior, received the 2010 June Stannard Memorial Scholarship, which she will apply toward studies for a major in hospitality management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The award, first given last year, honors the late June Stannard, operations manager for the Winnemucca Convention Center and a longtime Nevada tourism supporter.

In the essay that won her the award, Brittany said working as a hostess at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort’s Lone Eagle Grille and volunteering at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival has taught her “the amazing value that a thriving tourism industry can bring to enhance the assets of a community that would, otherwise, be devoid of full services.” She also wrote: “I have learned the value and enjoyment of courteous customer relations, professional methods for dealing with the challenges of an ‘unhappy’ patron and making each person I interact with feel special.”

Receiving VolunTourism awards in each territory were:

Cowboy Country Territory – Peg and Gene Kaplan, for creating, restoring and promoting tourism attractions in Wells and Elko County. Among their many projects, the Kaplans labored to preserve Wells’ colorful history and managed the historical Front Street buildings for visitors to enjoy. They created the “Cowboy Country Ghost Towns, Old Towns and Museums” brochure, promoted and supported the Emigrant Trail system and helped to produce Elko County’s Gem of Nevada Trail System for ATVs. A powerful earthquake struck Wells Feb. 21, 2008, heavily damaging Front Street and the El Rancho Hotel building where the Kaplans lived. Gene Kaplan died in 2008, just weeks after the earthquake, and his award was made posthumously. Peg Kaplan has remained active in Wells, seeking ways to refurbish the El Rancho and convert it into a conference center.

Indian Territory – Bruce Rettig, an expert Web designer and president/owner of Charter Advertising/Design, at Lake Tahoe, for sharing his marketing and advertising expertise with Indian Territory and for his advocacy of American Indian historic resources. Rettig volunteered his time to provide a workshop at the inaugural Nevada Tribal Tourism Conference at Lake Tahoe in April 2009, which increased awareness of tribal tourism industry opportunities. He assisted various tribal members with building Web sites and promoting tribal events, and he has visited remote tribal lands to meet and get to know the people and their culture. Rettig is considered an Indian Country friend who is able to establish trusted working relationships that benefit American Indians.

Las Vegas Territory – Jennifer Mahar Mulder, associate publisher for Relocation Resources guide in Las Vegas for meeting planners, has been involved with the territory for only 10 months, but already has done a commendable job of instituting upgraded technology to streamline the membership program. She donated her services to create electronic invitations and a computer-generated RSVP list that expedites meeting arrangements. She implemented post-meeting online surveys and evaluation procedures to help improve territory operations. Mulder and her company offer territory members the opportunity to submit press releases for free monthly exposure, a $540 value. She also has ensured that monthly territory meeting notices are included on all community calendars.

Nevada Silver Trails – Rebecca Elkins, with her husband, Jerry, own and operate the Horse Fly Ranch for guests in remote, scenic Monitor Valley north of Tonopah.  The ranch accommodates hunters and also offers winter retreats and a variety of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, ballooning, hiking, caving, campfires, climbing, mountain biking, visiting ghost towns and more. Rebecca Elkins became involved with the Nevada Silver Trails Territory just over a year ago and quickly proved to be an active, enthusiastic member. She volunteered to become the secretary and has not missed a meeting, including one in Pahrump that she had to drive more than 200 miles through blizzard conditions to attend. She has contributed a number of creative ideas and is always available when needed.

Pony Express Territory – Jan Morrison, entrepreneur and staunch promoter of tourism in historic Austin and Pony Express Territory, is founder-owner of Main Street Shops and St. Augustine’s Catholic Church building, which she is transforming into a cultural arts center and tourism attraction.  She bought the Lincoln Motel when it was closing to ensure there would be rooms for overnight visitors, publishes the Reese River Reveille that blends history, current affairs and humor and is developing Reese River Ranches, a 15-unit subdivision for those who enjoy solitude and the benefits of remote living. Morrison is passionate about Austin and the entire territory, works tirelessly to brand the community as a timeless piece of the Old West and exudes community spirit every time she dons her 1800s “Desperadas” costume.

Reno Tahoe Territory – Mary Reno, sales manager for the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in downtown Reno, for devoting her time and expertise to local and regional tourism-building programs and events. She was instrumental in planning and executing the 2007Tourism Cares for Virginia City volunteer restoration project and area familiarization tours for International Pow Wow tourism conference attendees in 2008.  Reno also contributed to the success of the National Tour Association Convention in November 2009, coordinating everything from welcoming attendees arriving at Reno-Tahoe International Airport to conducting sightseeing tours and activities. She is dedicated to, and a champion for, the promotion of downtown Reno

Tourism Lifetime Achievement Awards honored two individuals and a couple for their decades-long passion and commitment to building rural tourism.

“Year after year, these four exceptional rural Nevadans have contributed their ideas, enthusiasm and tireless work to the mission we all share – building tourism in rural Nevada for the benefit of their territories and the entire state,” NCOT Director Dann Lewis said. “They have consistently volunteered their services willingly and cheerfully, and we are very grateful.”

The winners are:

Virginia Ridgway of Goldfield, longtime, enthusiastic, resourceful rural tourism booster, authority on local history and created the concept of marketing area highways as Nevada Silver Trails. She started an organization that linked the communities along Highway 95 and developed new promotions, finding partners such as McDonald’s and Scolari’s. Ridgway dedicated herself to developing the Visitors Information Center in Tonopah. Ridgway also has assisted communities in other territories, as far south as Laughlin and north as Lovelock.

Wally Cuchine of Eureka, manager of the historical Eureka Opera House and art gallery and a recipient of the Distinguished Nevadan Award from the University of Nevada Board of Regents, has championed cultural tourism statewide, serving on numerous boards ranging from Pony Express Territory to the Nevada Humanities programming and grant-giving council. His love for art has created "The loneliest art collection on the Loneliest r Road," a Eureka attraction and tribute to Nevada artists. Cuchine is the only non-NCOT person to attend all 20 Rural Roundups.

Don and Carol Shanks of Pioche, a husband-wife team, have been unceasing supporters and leaders of tourism-building and promotion in Nevada Silver Trails Territory. They have worked in Pioche on everything from tourism marketing to infrastructure development. Don Shanks has written countless grants, and together with Carol, has seen the projects through from start to completion. They have worked on behalf of chambers of commerce throughout Lincoln County and have served on the Nevada Silver Trails territory board.