Editor’s Note: The past year has seen a big change in the skyline of downtown Gardnerville. Old buildings — long vacant and passed over by prospective buyers — came down, to the dismay of some nostalgic for the historic appearance of Carson Valley. We are offering Main Street Stories in an effort to preserve the past through the words and pictures of the people who lived and worked in Gardnerville in days gone by. If you have a Main Street story or picture to share, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 775-781-6900.
by Sheila Gardner
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — Sybil Dunagan approached me one Saturday afternoon before Mass at St. Gall’s with a concerned look on her face.
“What’s happening to Gardnerville?” she asked. “They just tore down Jane’s house, and now they are tearing down the Pyrenees. I worked at both those places, and I think it’s a shame they are gone.”
It occurred to me that not many could share Sybil’s experience, and people would be interested in her recollections.
I talked her into an interview, and a few weeks later, we met in the sunlit breakfast nook of her Centerville Lane home. She greeted me with fresh coffee and warm pastry, and we sat down to talk about her life on Main Street, and what it meant to see the anchors of her childhood and young adulthood coming down.
Sybil and her brother, Julian Larrouy, grew up in the Valley Bar, run by their parents — also named Julian and Sybil. At the time, it was called JS Valley Bar, for the original Julian and Sybil.
The Larrouy kids didn’t go far from their childhood home.
Sybil and Jerry Dunagan’s house is next to the site of the Valley Bar which burned down in 2006. Julian and Betty Larrouy live next door.
Sybil and Julian grew up at the bar on Centerville. The family lived upstairs.
“We never had a living room to sit in,” she said.
Her parents were busy with the bar, but never far away.
“All the kids who were raised in bars, we never really got in trouble,” she said.
Every holiday, her mother would invite “all the little old men who had no place to go” for dinner.
“My mother was so good,” she said.
Sybil, who will be 72 in May, was a Douglas County High School sophomore when she went to work at the Pyrenees Hotel on Main Street, operated by the Micheo family.
“I went to school all day, then walked down to the Pyrenees to wait tables. I made $1 an hour, and split my tips with the cook. They had two great big long tables and I would get in to work and set up the tables and wait on the diners. At 6 p.m., I’d ring the dinner bell. If we didn’t have a dishwasher, I would wash the dishes at night,” she said.
Service clubs like Kiwanis and the Carson Valley 20-30 Club met at the Pyrenees. “They gave me such a bad time,” she recalled with a smile. “They were always teasing me, always joking.”
The Pyrenees served a lot of boarders, Sybil said.
“Mrs. Micheo liked everything perfect. If the steaks were not done right, she had a fit.”
Sundays were popular at the Pyrenees for fried chicken dinners.
“Sunday was a big day. We fed a lot of people,” she said.
Sybil worked at the Pyrenees until she graduated from high school in 1961. She graduated on a Friday night and began beauty school in Reno the following Monday. It’s her profession to this day.
“I cut my aunt’s hair when I was 11 years old. I used to cut the girls’ hair in the bathroom at school,” she said.
Sybil, who won a scholarship to beauty school, lived in Reno with her aunt for 18 months.
That’s how she met her husband, Jerry. The Dunagans will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary in June.
“Jerry was stationed at the Air Force Base in Stead and was a client of my aunt’s,” she said.
Since Jerry was originally from Baltimore, Sybil thought the young couple would move back East and she would have an opportunity to see part of the United States.
“I asked Jerry, ‘Where do you want to live?’ I thought we would be moving to Baltimore. He told me had been an Army ‘brat,’ moved around his whole life, and wanted to stay here. So, we moved back to Carson Valley.”
When Sybil was 28, she opened her own shop — Kut-n-Kurl — next door to Miller’s Market (now The Record-Courier). For six years, she operated the shop until a leaky roof and water in the walls lead to black mold that was too much for the fastidious Sybil to tolerate.
That’s when Jane Rosenbrock entered the picture.
“I had no place to take all my clients and Jane called me and invited me to her shop,” Sybil said.
Jane operated her salon for decades out of her home on Gilman Avenue near the intersection with Highway 395, across from Sharkey’s casino in Gardnerville. The home had been empty since the late 1990s. Rosenbrock retired at age 81. She died in 2001.
Jane’s Beauty Salon was torn down a few months ago as part of the Sharkeys renovation.
“When the Pyrenees and Jane’s both came down, it just made me sick,” Sybil said. “When they tore down the Pyrenees, I hoped somehow they could leave the front. I liked the old brick look. The East Fork (hotel), it was the same thing, but I guess progress is progress.”
She is eager to see what the renovated Sharkey’s will look like. Development of the busy intersection at Highway 395 and Gilman Avenue has been debated by Carson Valley residents with an anticipated Sharkeys re-opening at the end of April.
Sybil still styles hair one day a week at December Hair Design in Gardnerville. Any talk of retirement dismays her loyal clientele.
“One of my clients told me when I retire, she’ll have to shave her head and buy a wig,” Sybil said.
Her services extend to some clients after they pass away.
“I knew how they liked their hair. If their family asks, I’ll do it. I feel it’s the last thing I can do for them and their family,” she said.
She’s volunteered hundreds of hours over the past 18 years to Look Good, Feel Better, a free program designed to help cancer patients care while undergoing treatment.
Jerry worked at C.O.D. Garage — now a casino — for more than 40 years.
Sybil and Jerry raised their three kids — Kerry, Darla and Darren — in Carson Valley, and have six grandchildren.
They miss the days when it didn’t take so long to drive into town, but there’s no place they’d rather live.
“I love this Valley,” she said. “I have gone a lot of places, but as soon as I am home, I say, ‘Here’s my valley.’”
Carson Valley Times contributor Sheila Gardner, a longtime Gardnerville resident, retired in 2014 after 30 years at The Record-Courier.
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