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April 30, 2007
By Guia Del Prado
Ironically, the statue of John W. Mackay that stands in front of the Mackay School of Mines building was not originally supposed to be placed there. Initially intended for the grounds of the Nevada Capitol, the 1907 Nevada legislature rejected the statue and would only offer it space in Carson City's library annex. The statue's sculptor, Gutzon Borglum—who later came to fame sculpting Mount Rushmore—was offended by the apparent slight.
Luckily for the University, Borglum found a more willing recipient in University President Joseph Stubbs, who offered to place it on the north end of what would become the University quad. On June 10, 1908, the statue was dedicated with the Mackay School of Mines building in front of thousands of people.
Another crowd will gather Monday, April 30, for Mackay Town, the kickoff celebration for this year’s Mackay Week festivities, which pay tribute to the silver baron and his son, Clarence, for the family's generosity to the University in its infancy.
John Mackay (1831-1902) immigrated to the United States in 1840 with his parents and tried his hand at California gold mines in 1852. Having no luck in California, he went to Virginia City, Nev., to try silver mining. Starting as a miner, he quickly worked his way up to superintendent and then business partner.
In 1869, he formed a mining partnership with fellow Irishmen James Graham Fair, James C. Flood, and William S. O'Brien to create what became known as the "Bonanza Firm." Four years later, the men struck the Comstock Lode, which from 1873 to 1878 produced more than $166 million in ore.
After Mackay's death in 1902, Clarence and his mother, Marie Louise Mackay, provided funding necessary to build the Mackay School of Mines building.
Like the man, Mackay Week has become a legacy in itself, yet another mark on the University’s history by the Mackay family.
“It’s the reason why the school is here,” says Noah Millett, president of the University's John Mackay Club. “His family single-handedly supported the school up until the time of the Great Depression and funded the school during some really rough times.”
Mackay Week also honors the story days of the mining industry, which was the leading supplier of state revenues.
“It celebrates Nevada history as well as the University’s,” says Laura Garcher, member of the Mackay Connections Club.
Unfortunately, the once popular Mackay Week, which had been a highly attended event since its inception about 90 years ago, has in recent years succumb to apathy and ignorance, Mackay Week organizers say.
“I think there was a period of time when it seemed as though we didn’t need tradition,” says Leslie Rumph, coordinator of student services for the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering and adviser of the the Mackay Connections Club. “Then we realized what creates loyalty to the University is tradition, history and events that are consistent from year to year.”
Eli Reilly, vice president of programming for the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, also disparages the student body’s recent disconnect with the traditional celebration . This year’s festivities, according to Reilly, aim to be a rejuvenation of the nearly 100-year-old event.
“It’s important to acknowledge what he did for the University,” Reilly said. “But the tradition died down. It’s something we want to bring back.”
In the attempt to redeem the popularity of the event, Reilly said the activities of Mackay Week will revolve around something everyone has an interest in: game shows.
“We tried to come up with events that would get student s fired up and willing to participate,” Reilly said.
Mackay Week is comprised of day and night events. The day events include refreshments and activities that are open to all students such as Root Beer Pong on Wednesday, May 2, and a Mackay Week concert. The night events game shows in which only members of organizations that signed up prior to the event can participate. These teams can earn points in events like The Price is Right on Monday, April 30 and The Amazing Race on Friday, May 4. The winning team with the most points will be awarded the much-coveted Mackay Cup in an awards reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 4.
The games may be enjoyable, but they also bring the student population closer.
“A lot of people just go to class and don’t pay attention to what’s going on on campus,” said Erica Tabano of the student activities programming board, Flipside. “The activities can attract them and give them a sense of unity.”
Mackay Week is not only a way of honoring the Mackays, but it also serves as a way of uniting the campus and giving students good memories of their alma mater.
“We want to create a tradition that students can remember,” Rumph said. “We want them to proud alumni.”