Azad McIver is one of Truckee’s touchstones
Azad McIver’s parents could not have picked her a more fitting name.
Azad, which means “victory” in Armenian, survived the Armenian massacre (just barely), has outlived most of her family and friends, and maintains an attitude indicative of a full life in a laid-back mountain town.
Sitting on the sofa in her Gateway area home, the 94-year-old recites the timeline of her life in vivid detail – from her flight out of her homeland at age 6, to her stint as a waitress at the Pastime Club in her 20s, to her waltz with Charlie Chaplin while he was in Truckee filming “Gold Rush.”
Born in Harpoot, Armenia in 1908, McIver is probably one of town’s most local locals. She’s seen Truckee’s entire mutation, from a horse and ranch town to the ski-industry-driven and incorporated locale it is today.
“I’ve had a lot of good friends,” she said, with strong remnants of an Armenian accent. “Most of them just aren’t around anymore. I come from good stock.”
Under the wing of her older sister Roxie, McIver moved to Truckee in 1922 to meet their brother, Richard Joseph (formerly Josepian), who had settled in town with his wife in 1916. A photographer and barber by trade, Joseph owned Manstyle Barbers, the Donner Hotel and the Pastime Club (a speakeasy at the time). In addition to attending grammar school at the old school house on Church Street, McIver was also a waitress at the Pastime for about nine years.
“I wasn’t allowed to drink. Dick would say, ‘Azad, that’s to sell,'” she said.
McIver said she met many interesting people while working at the Pastime Club, including her late husband, Jim McIver, a local blacksmith who delivered mail to Tahoe City.
“Jimmy used to come in and eat all the time, and he would give me a ride home from work. That’s how we got acquainted,” she said.
The couple was married in Reno Aug. 10, 1944. Because Jim was 12 years her senior, the locals were a little skeptical about the longevity of the relationship.
“The whole town said, ‘Oh, that’s not going to last.’ But it did,” she said, laughing.
McIver’s husband would ask her to come along to deliver mail on his pontoon-style snowmobile.
“I rode with him a couple times, but it was too cold,” she said.
A whole lot of land
In addition to his enterprises in town, McIver’s brother owned the land from Gateway to Donner Lake, which he purchased from Union Ice Company.
“The locals thought he was crazy for buying the land,” McIver said. “They said, ‘What are you going to do, raise chipmunks out there?’ He felt horrible, like he’d make a mistake. My sister told him not to worry.”
Joseph was responsible for developing the Gateway area at the time, including the hotel and the shopping center.
After his wife passed away, he decided it was time to build a hospital in Truckee.
“There was only one doctor in town, and he liked to fish,” McIver said. “So if something was wrong, they had to go to all of the fishing holes to find him.”
In 1949, Joseph donated the land to for the hospital and paid for much of the equipment in the extended care center, where, coincidentally, his sister Roxie would pass away in 1997. He also contributed to Shriners Hospital and the University of Nevada, Reno.
As the beneficiary of Joseph’s land, McIver donated the land for the hospital’s expansion.
“They wanted to build more, I said OK,” she said matter-of-factly. “My brother’s wish was to build a hospital. I’d rather take care of our people here rather than give it to ‘Uncle’ (Sam).”
Now McIver spends most of her time sitting at home, visiting with friends and watching television. She lives in a small, unassuming home, un-indicative of her family’s notable history in town. There’s a lucky horseshoe tacked above her doorway, and photos covering her walls, depicting a time in a very different Truckee.
Many of her friends have since died or moved out of town, including Roxie, who left Truckee when she got married but returned years later. Each winter, McIver’s friends try to convince her to migrate somewhere with a warmer climate than Truckee, but McIver is staying put.
“I was born in the Old Country, but I love it here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people.”
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Olympic House was empty but for some maintenance workers and all those ghosts.