For 94 years, Sparks resident Valdo Renucci has witnessed his community grow from a small ranching community into a city with a population of about 95,000. Throughout that steady growth and change, the World War II veteran and past city councilman has always lived within the same three-block area.
When Renucci was growing up, most residents worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, and Sparks was a fraction of the size that it is today.
Renucci’s father, Paolo, immigrated to the United States from Tereglio, Italy, in 1911, with the assistance of Gulia Nannini, Renucci’s aunt. Nannini played matchmaker for Renucci’s father and mother, Erina. The two had never met before Erina immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1920 to marry Paolo. Shortly afterwards, they gave birth to their only child, Valdo Renucci, on Sept. 25, 1921.
Renucci was born and raised in Sparks, in a home that didn’t have insulation, electricity or an indoor toilet. A pot-belly stove warmed the house, and the family used kerosene lamps for light and had an outhouse.
“We had quite a space from Sparks to Reno,” Renucci said. “When I was born, Prater Way, they called it the Old County Road–that was the boundary – north. The railroad tracks – south. 4th Street and 15th. That was Sparks.”
Renucci remembers when there were hitching posts for horses on B Street (present day Victorian Avenue), when Pyramid Way was 8th Street and when Rock Boulevard was 17th Street.
“I think about my dad and [how] he used to walk just four blocks to make his rounds,” Renucci said. “If he lived now, he’d be flabbergasted because Sparks is so far extended now.”
Another difference that has changed with time is the prevalence of crime. Renucci recalls how safe the neighborhoods were when he was growing up and how doors were rarely closed.
There was no theft, and you didn’t have to worry about being robbed or anything like that, Renucci said.
At the time, there was a prevalent Italian culture in Sparks and many of the ranches were owned by Italians. Many of them made their own wine, and in the evenings, they would drink wine and visit their neighbors.
“All the Italians made wine here,” Renucci said. “You had to get a permit, but you couldn’t sell the wine that you produced, you had to consume it.”
Renucci went to school at Robert Mitchell Elementary School, where he was held back in second grade because he wasn’t able to speak English. Despite the language barrier, he enjoyed going to school, and eventually made the honor roll. When he graduated from Sparks High School in 1940, he received a gold pin to honor his scholastic accomplishments and good grades.
After graduation, Renucci went to work for Harry Gray, who owned a local hardware store. He worked for Gray for about 10 months, but on Apr. 1, 1942, he was recruited to work in the basement of First National Bank on the addressographs. Then on Aug. 15, 1942, Renucci was drafted into the Army during World War II.
Renucci was sent to the 84th Training Battalion at Camp Roberts, Calif., and was deployed to Liverpool, United Kingdom. Renucci was assigned to the 314th Regiment of the 79th Infantry Division, and soon landed at Omaha Beach, where his regiment entered the battle at the Invasion of Normandy.
On the first day of battle, Renucci began to see the consequences of war, as fellow soldiers were killed or wounded.
“At first, it was really shocking to see somebody wounded and hollering in pain,” Renucci said. “But then you get used to it. Then you try to survive.”
During his deployment, Renucci would end up fighting in four major battles: the Invasion of Normandy, a battle in Strasbourg, France, the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and a battle in Schinnen, Holland. Toward the end of the war, Renucci’s regiment would cross the Rhine River and end up in Berlin, Germany.
“World War II is something for me,” Renucci said. “I mean, to me, to go through all that because almost everyone that you hear about, they got purple hearts and stuff like that… but I went through the whole thing, from the beginning to the end. And I was lucky. I lucked out on a lot of things.”
On Nov. 28, 1945, about 3 1/2 years after being drafted, Renucci was discharged as a sergeant. He was awarded four Bronze Stars – one for each major battle that he fought in.
Renucci returned to his position at First National Bank on Jan. 2, 1946. He worked his way up to become the manager of the accounting department in the head office, and after working just shy of 45 years at the bank, Renucci retired on Feb. 1, 1987.
During this time, Renucci also served two terms on the Sparks City Council, from 1975 to 1983.
He said City Hall was a good experience because it was absolutely different than he thought it was.
As a council member, Renucci was instrumental in acquiring the new American Legion hall, promoted the installation of stop signs and helped residents with animal control issues. He also participated in the National League of Cities, a national association for city and town leaders, that allowed him to meet people locally and throughout the nation.
“I really enjoyed the eight years,” he said. “I did try to help people.”
Renucci has also been active in several organizations throughout his life. He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Elks Lodge, American Legion and the Sons of Italy. Renucci has served on the boards of program such as Foster Grandparents and the Children’s Cabinet, among many others. He is currently on the board of directors for the Community Services Agency and is active in the Catholic Church.
His involvement in the organizations allowed him to meet and get to know many people. He said wherever he goes, people still come up to him because they remember him.
“I like to talk to people,” said the loquacious Renucci. “I like to meet people. No matter what organization I belong in, even the new members, especially the new members would come in, I talk to them [and] make them feel at home.”
Throughout his life, Renucci has been supported by his wife, Angelina, whom he first met through his cousin. While stationed in the United States before deployment, Renucci wrote a letter to her mother, asking her permission to write to Angelina. They married on June 15, 1947, in Winnemucca. They have two daughters, Valdine and Irene, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Despite his age, Renucci has remained active in his personal life, the community and several organizations. The secret to his success: Not worrying about anything and not getting into arguments.
“I think I had a good life,” Renucci said. “I enjoyed it.”