Thankful I got to know them

Pete Topol, Dorothy Button, Nancy Peppin, Ed Vogel, Laura Myers. As I pause in gratitude this Thanksgiving, I can’t help but remember these five Nevadans we lost in 2015.

Peter Topol was born in 1938 in Brooklyn, making his way to Lake Tahoe when he was just 8 years old. Dividing his time between Tahoe City, Reno and Truckee, he brought his unique brand of humor and joy to friends, family, and business associates who reveled in his antics and his compassion towards others.

A musician, an artist, an athlete, Pete attracted friends through his vivacious personality and giving heart. He seemed to pop up wherever you were—at the Lake, at the airport, at a coffee shop, or at a family dinner, always with a legendary escapade to report. Our world is much dimmer without him.

Dorothy Button was 93 when she passed away last May. She was a female public leader during a time when there were few. Born on the O-A-Bar Ranch, near Apache, Arizona, she graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 1949. Dorothy became the first faculty member at the Orvis School of Nursing and was one of the first female lobbyists at the Nevada Legislature, where she successfully advocated for advanced practitioners in nursing to work in Nevada.

Apropos of her name, Dorothy was a passionate button collector and was active in the Nevada State Button Society. A 50-year member of Reno’s First United Methodist Church, she lived her values fully, offering affordable housing to many a young University of Nevada student in her rambling nearby home.

Nancy Peppin, an artist and activist, was born in 1945. She made the Twinkie her muse, featuring the non-nutritious snack food in many a watercolor painting and mixed media piece, obsessed as she freely admitted with “the ultimate American food icon,” an echo of Andy Warhol’s soup can. These unusual pieces were featured in many a community art show or non-profit event, a whimsical commentary on American society.

Nancy was also an educator, teaching painting and drawing at UNR, Truckee Meadows Community College and the Nevada Museum of Art. She led an effort to build the Eureka Sentinel Museum. She was mischievous and marvelous, often stopping me in my tracks at the Farmers Market on a hot summer Saturday to relate the latest injustice in Nevada and what she planned to do about it.

Journalists Ed Vogel and Laura Myers both died of cancer this year, after decades of service as professional writers and off-duty humanitarians. They covered Nevada politics by investigating the powerful and profiling the everyday Nevadan to illustrate complex policy issues as they played out in real life.

Ed could be gruff, especially if he felt a politician was being less than forthcoming. But underneath his tough newsman exterior was a compassionate heart. He would press me hard in an interview but then later privately reveal his frustration that more was not done for the less fortunate, the mentally ill, and the children who grew up in horrible circumstances. He quietly went about improving Nevada by raising wonderful grandchildren and contributing more than his share to his community.

Laura used her reserved charm to elicit incredibly complex information and her considerable intelligence to provide insightful analyses. Periodically she would leave journalism to attend to her life’s other work, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo and working for Habitat for Humanity in Mongolia. She covered numerous international stories but always returned to Nevada where she wrote beautifully of wild horses while also covering local politics with grace.

It was a privilege to know these five people who changed our little part of the world for the better. And that’s plenty to be thankful for today.