100 Years of Candy Dance
September – October 2019
Centennial event honors volunteers and founder.
BY JOYCE HOLLISTER
For 100 years, streetlights have illuminated Genoa—Nevada’s oldest settlement—thanks to a group of dedicated townsfolk.
In 1919, Lillian Virgin Finnegan and her aunt Jane Raycraft Campbell encouraged the 200 or so townspeople to hold a dance in what is now the Genoa Town Hall to raise funds for streetlights. Young ladies passed trays of free homemade candy, and after the dance, a midnight supper was served at the Raycraft Hotel.
Today, on the last full weekend of September, Genoans make and sell candy for the two-day Candy Dance Arts and Crafts Faire, which draws between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors to the town, population around 900.
This year, the centennial Candy Dance honors the dance founder and the hundreds of volunteers who have kept the lights on for a century. The highlight of the celebration is a 7-foot bronze statue of Finnegan and a carved bas-relief representing volunteers lit by a restored original streetlight (see sidebar, below).
It is said that Finnegan’s idea for the fundraiser came from a dance she attended on a cruise where waiters passed trays of candy, although no one seems to know where the cruise was, or if in fact it was held on an ocean-going vessel or a riverboat.
The idea caught on and the dance, supper, and candy making continued, even through the Great Depression and World War II, when sugar and gas rationing merely put a small dent in the fun. The popular northern Nevada occasion drew visitors from all over the West after the two-day arts and crafts fair was instituted in the 1970s.
CANDY DANCE MEMORIES
With or without a fair, Candy Dance has always been special for Genoans and considered a highlight of the fall social season.
As a girl, fourth-generation resident and town historian Billie Jean Rightmire, 86, helped make candy at home, and in the 1940s she dug potatoes on the Trimmer Ranch to earn money to buy dance clothes.
“I would wear out the Sears catalog looking for a new skirt or a new top,” she remembers.
A decade later, Billie Jean was sporting a catalog outfit when she met Don, her husband-to-be, at the dance.
Rancher Lisa Lekumberry is a Genoa native and long-time Candy Dance hand.
“There are always a lot of people helping,” she says. “I remember my grandma and all the older ladies with trays passing candy around the dance.”
She also recalls doing a lively bunny hop with fellow dancers in the town hall, originally the Raycraft Hall.
By the time Lisa was candy co-chairman in the 1980s, the candy process had changed from women making candy at home to groups working together in the Genoa Volunteer Firehouse kitchen. She and co-chairman Thelma Schenk persuaded the town to buy two gleaming copper kettles for making fudge.
CANDY IS DANDY…
The handmade preservative-free Genoa candy sells out quickly. For the centennial, candy makers produced 3,200 pounds of divinity, peanut brittle, English toffee, dark-chocolate peanut clusters, almond bark, and cookies-and-cream bark. The volunteers now have four copper kettles for cooking fudge.
“We make three different kinds of fudge: plain, walnut chocolate, and peanut butter,” candy chairman Dee Dykes says. “We usually do a limited number of chocolate-dipped pretzels decorated with sparkles.”
The biggest seller is a mixed package of fudge and divinity. Prices range from $5 for pretzels to $17 for mixed boxes. The candy is sold in the Town Hall along withGenoa-related merchandise and centennial memorabilia by—you guessed it—dedicated volunteers.
…BUT THE FAIR BRINGS IN THE BUCKS
The Candy Dance became a moneymaker with the advent of the fair. The proceeds pay for the streetlights’ electric bill, plowing snow off the streets, and keeping the town spiffy.
Fair-goers browse some 300 stalls accupied by craftspeople and fine artists at Mormon Station State Historic Park and nearby streets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Packed booths display handmade pottery, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, country crafts—and lots of tie-dye. You can find Western hats, soaps, lotions, candles, scarves, handbags, decorated mirrors, blown glass, paintings, photography, and wood and metal yard art.
Until the fair closes each day, food vendors hawk barbecue, Indian tacos, kettle corn, ice cream, margaritas, sodas, deep-fried delicacies, and root beer. The Genoa Volunteer Fire Department’s six volunteer firefighters and a gaggle of hard-working supporters sell Italian sausage sandwiches in a booth with two bars.
Lake Tahoe acoustic duo Ike and Martin along with a full band will belt out modern classic rock at the Genoa Town Park, and the Liberty Food and Wine Exchange presents summer favorites for dinner on Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Some guests plan to wear 1919 period clothing.
Regular price is $32. For $52, VIPs receive a commemorative centennial glass and can park for free with their tickets. A shuttle transports VIPs to and from the dance. Reservations are recommended.
Each day, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Posse and Jacks Valley Elementary School nonprofits charge $5 to park in the lots at the south, east, and north entrances to Genoa on Genoa Lane and Jacks Valley Road; shuttles to the town center are free. Drivers can park along the sides of these roads, if vehicles do not obstruct traffic.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
Alison and Roger Grey recruit vendor hosts who help the arts and craftspeople put up booths. Volunteers operate the Genoa information station at the center of town and set up and assist during the dinner and dance.
“I’m glad they are being honored,” says Alison, who with husband Roger, is in charge of overseeing volunteers. “Honestly, we couldn’t do this without them. The candy making alone, that’s huge.”
Town manager JT Chevallier says honoring Candy Dance volunteers is long overdue. The town’s staff of two could not mount such a large event without considerable help.
“It’s only achievable because of our volunteers,” JT says.