I have seen Sparks mayor Geno Martini around at events the last two years in my covering of the Sparks area, but I had never had a one-on-one conversation with him. Sitting down with him two weeks ago, he embodied everything I ever thought about him from my first impressions and watching him engage with the community from afar and he struck me as someone who was personable, funny, and doesn’t let anything get in the way of serving his city or protecting his people.
What I especially admire about Geno is that last part…sticking up for his employees and lightening the mood in any tough situation. As politicians vie for votes from the general public, employees work tirelessly behind the scenes trying to appease their elected officials. I believe that one’s happiness at a government job all depends on the tone set by the boss, and judging from the tearful goodbyes from employees and friends shared at Geno’s October 25 Farewell Address. From the multiple standing ovations, he succeeded in getting everyone to like him, not just his constituents.
Words like “tenacity”, “a man of honor”, “toughness” and “commitment” described Geno as a heartfelt video by staff highlighted his accomplishments and dedicated service. City councilwoman Charlene Bybee said, “I’ve admired your sense of humor and your ability to cut through stress in any intense situation. You don’t have a big ego, everything you do is for the love of the city”.
“I hope to be half the man you are,” says Sparks City Councilman and fellow Sparks High Railroader Donald Abbott.
Although I only had an hour with Geno, we chatted about baseball (go Dodgers!), where the best place is to hunt for pine nuts (the Virginia City Highlands- “but you won’t leave without being covered in pitch and sap,” Geno says), and how to cause a power outage across the entire City of Sparks.
One of Geno’s most memorable moments of growing up on the 480-acre ranch in Sparks is the time he got a hold of some baling wire and tossed it up into the power lines. “It made a sizzle, put out a big flash, it was really cool,” Geno says. Little did he know that he put out the power in all of Sparks, some 60-70 homes at the time but he didn’t fess up to his dad about it until years later.
“I’m very, very proud of him”
Although she had never directly expressed it, Geno thought that his 97-year-old mother Erma was proud of him and yes, she does give him advice on how to improve the city.
“Not only on improving the city, but also on my whole life!” Geno says.
“He’s been a good son, he’s a giving son. I’m very, very proud of him but I hope all of these accolades don’t go to his head,” Erma says. About what he plans on doing in retirement, she adds, “He’s not the type to sit around and do nothing, I see him helping out other groups- he’d make a great consultant.”
“Gina (Geno’s daughter) lives in Spanish Springs with my grandson Elio. He’s a hoot, he goes 900 mph all day long. I call him ‘terremoto’ which means ‘earthquake’ in Italian,” Geno says.
“This has been his sweet spot for the last 20-something years and I hope he stays involved with the community,” his daughter Gina Martini-Gonzalez says. “I’m very proud of him. It was just me and him for a long time and he was always fun, understanding, and compassionate- and I was a pain in the ass,” she laughs.
you can maybe find him at Western Village
When asked what his favorite place to hang out at in Sparks, Geno says that he loves Scheels and what it has brought to the Sparks community. However, he also admitted to me that he used to take his parents to Western Village every Sunday for breakfast and then they would play the poker machines and Geno would hang out and watch sports.
“Make a reservation at Western Village, they have great food, it’s a well-kept secret. The steakhouse opens at 4:30 p.m. and you want to get their early,” Geno advises.
Winning elections since 1964
Geno got into politics young, although he didn’t realize it at the time. He served on the student body council at Sparks High School his sophomore and junior year before becoming elected student body president as a senior in 1964. After that he never thought much about pursuing a career in politics, but did buy a house on Glen Meadow Drive in 1975 across from his best friend Tony Armstrong. Armstrong ran for mayor in 1985 as Geno got involved in banking (working for First National and later Great Basin) and the Chamber of Commerce. It was Armstrong who urged Geno to get back into politics and how Geno eventually became Sparks’ longest serving mayor.
“He was just so likeable (in high school), just a fun guy,” says fellow Sparks High Railroader Craig Gustavson, Class of 1962.
“Sparks has been defined by Geno’s leadership and through that you see what Sparks has become,” says Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung. Residing in Spanish Springs for more than 30 years, Hartung used to serve on Citizen’s Advisory Boards back with Geno in the early 2000’s. “We became closer in 2012 when I got elected to the Board of Commissioners, he’s a dear friend and a great colleague,” he adds.
What the community says
“We’ve been so fortunate to have him, especially through the economic downturn in 2008-09. The mayor and city council understood that they had to make some hard decisions to keep the city going. Geno has been a great steward for our city and now we’re reaping the benefits. He held in there during tough times. We’re a city to be reckoned with, I’m so glad we moved here 20 years ago,” says Sparks resident Marilyn Brainard.
“It’s been good to have someone with a business background. Being a former banker, he had the expertise to weather the bad times,” her husband Bill adds.
“He’s lifted this city up. He’s a man of integrity, a man of his word, and he is always looking out for the best interest of Sparks which is pretty cool to see for a politician. We want to thank him for all he’s done… he’s a personal friend and just a really, really good man.”- Todd Prinz, Owner of Lighthouse Coffee.