Bertha Bishop Ronzone
At a glance:
Bertha B. "Mom" Ronzone, was born on April 16, 1885 in a small town near Des Moines, Iowa to James W. and Sarah Bishop. She came west with her family and settled in Fowler, CA, where she received her early education. She married A.B. Ronzone who had come to California to prospect for gold. They were married on December 12, 1901, setting out the following spring aboard a ship bound for Alaska. Blown off course in a fierce storm, they arrived in Nome three months later than anticipated only to find Mr. Ronzone's partner had sold their business establishment and left with both partners' money. Their daughter, Amy, was born in Alaska, where they stayed for two years.
Tales of the Nevada mining boom lured them to Tonopah, Goldfield, and Manhattan. Their second daughter, Esther, was born in 1913 in Manhattan. It was there Bertha began taking in the miners' laundry to help supplement the family income. It was soon evident the miners were in need of socks and clothing. On a trip to Oakland to visit her mother, Bertha made her first investment in the Ronzone store of the future. She bought, on sale, socks of odd sizes and shipped them to her daughter, Amy, to sell in Manhattan. The miners did not care if the socks did not fit and bought them anyway.
The socks were so successful that Bertha turned to the idea of opening a general store to further accommodate Manhattan's urgent clothing needs. Lacking funds, she arranged to meet George Wingfield, future Nevada banker, whom she had known in Alaska. At their meeting in the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, "Mom" discussed her lack of funds with Mr. Wingfield who promptly wrote her a check for $500.00 as a loan.
She opened her first store in Manhattan in 1917. Coincidentally, her son, Richard, was born the same year. However, in 1923, the Manhattan boom was over and the family moved to Tonopah where they re-established the business in the Elks' Building. Later they purchased the E. Marks Clothing Store with its full complement of merchandise. News that Boulder Dam was to be built brought Ben and Bertha to Las Vegas in 1929 where they opened a new store on Carson Street, selling women's and children's wear. As the town grew during the dam construction period, Ronzone's kept pace. In 1935, the business moved to 209 Fremont and then expanded twice in the next few years.
Following the death of her husband in 1938, Bertha was joined by their son, Richard, in operating the business. He was with her only two years until he entered military service with the Nevada National Guard and did not return until after World War II in November, 1945. He later was elected to one term in the Nevada Assembly and also to the Clark County Commission.
Meanwhile, the Tonopah store, which was being operated by her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Al Adams, had been sold in 1939 and the Adams joined the Las Vegas store staff. They remained until 1943 when the Ronzones purchased Gray, Reid and Wright department store in Reno, which they operated for the family corporation until retirement about 1964. Bertha's daughter, Esther, married Ed Recanzone and they owned and operated the Emporium Clothing Store in Yerington, independent of the Ronzone operation. In 1946, the Las Vegas Ronzones moved to 418 Fremont into a new building constructed by Mrs. Corrine Johnson and her husband, Paul. Ronzone's occupied one-half the building. In 1968 the family opened another store on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas in the new and modern Boulevard Mall.
Bertha believed in "prayer, faith and determination." She believed her success was due to these three qualities. Through her own initiative and hard work, she became the head of the largest privately-owned merchandising enterprise in the state of Nevada, extending from north to south.
Many honors have been bestowed on Mrs. Ronzone in recognition of her accomplishments in business and her assistance in community development. In June, 1967, during commencement ceremonies at Nevada Southern University (now UNLV), she was named as a "Distinguished Nevadan," one of the highest honors the state can bestow. She was chosen as "Nevada's Golden Rule Pioneer Mother" in May, 1959. She was nominated by the Business and Professional Women's Club of Las Vegas, which described her as "An outstanding living example of faith, courage, and cheerfulness, all of which come through the spiritual and moral strength which makes up her character. Her greatest merit is her love of people, and she gives freely her affection, kindness, and understanding to friends and family alike." She was named "Mother of the Year" by the Women's Guild of the Church of Religious Science in May, 1967. She was a founder of that church and a past president of the Guild.
Interested in education for herself and for her community; Bertha also served as a member of the School Board in Tonopah and furthered her own education by studying and graduating from the first year course of the Church of Religious Science where she received a bachelor's degree.
Bertha Ronzone was still active in store activities until her death in Las Vegas on November 5, 1969.
Biographical sketch by Sally Wilkins
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