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Ranchos man won’t allow illness to slow him down

by Merrie Leininger

Many people complain that in today’s world, neighbors rarely venture out of their homes for the good of their community. However, one Ranchos man is an exception.

Ranchos board chairman Bruce Nystrom has served on the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District board of trustees since 1985 and worked as chief engineer of the Ranchos Volunteer Fire Department since 1977. Now, even when he and his family are fighting a personal battle, Nystrom is determined to continue to serve his community until he is physically unable.

Nystrom has been fighting a re-occurrence of cancer for the last 18 months. In 1990, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“They gave me a 35 percent chance for five years and I beat that. Then it reared its ugly head again 18 months ago. It metastasized into my lungs and bones,” he said. “They tried chemo and other stuff, but none of it is working. Now my wife and the hospice nurse are trying to make me as comfortable as they can.”

Nystrom’s illness has forced him to give up the physical activity of the fire department.

He brings an oxygen tank to GRGID meetings to help him breathe, but the same old passion can be heard in his voice when he talks about his work with both entities.

Although he says he was just doing what he thought was right all these years, Nystrom said he is proud to leave a legacy of working for the community where he has lived since 1976.

n A simple life. “My life is pretty simple, all things considered,” Nystrom said.

The 56-year-old was born and raised in Los Angeles. After high school and a few years of college, he started working as a repairman for Xerox in 1965. A year later, he moved to the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Linda. They had one child, Melissa, who is now 29, before they divorced in 1970.

During his time at Xerox in San Fernando, he was dispatched to repair jobs by a woman named Mary Jean. They had talked over the phone for five years without meeting face-to-face.

“At the time, one dispatcher was assigned to several repairmen and they basically ran our lives. We got to know each other over the telephone and in 1974 we bumped into each other quite by accident and within a year we had married,” Nystrom said.

The new family decided to move to the Carson Valley, closer to Nystrom’s parents who lived at the Lake, and he continued to work for Xerox.

Soon after moving to the area, he was drafted into the tiny Ranchos Volunteer Fire Department almost by accident. The department’s only fire truck at the time, a hand-me-down from Edwards Air Force Base, broke down in front of his driveway.

“I wandered out to help and got pressed into service. I thought, ‘This would be a good place to put my efforts,'” he said.

Nystrom recalled helping build the first Ranchos fire station.

“Everything was donated materials and volunteer labor. We had gotten to the framing when one of those terrible winds came up,” Nystrom said. “Back then, we didn’t have pagers or anything, we used a phone tree. So word went out that the station was going to fall over if we didn’t do something. Someone got a backhoe somehow and pulled it into the upright position, and we just prayed it would last all night.”

Nystrom said the community has generally been supportive of the station’s annual fund-raising dinner and dance, but he thinks it is still a sad situation that so few people volunteer their time. Some people don’t even realize the whole county, not just the Ranchos, is served by volunteer firefighters, he said.

“My interest in the fire department has always been very heavy because if somebody doesn’t step up, it won’t get done,” he said. “The GID has a great number of people who don’t know what we do. We have about 32 members in the department, and when compared to 10,000 residents in the district, that is a very small percentage. We need people to step up.”

n Started with stop sign. Nystrom became involved in the board in 1985 after he attended a few board meetings to ask a stop sign be installed on his street.

While the Ranchos has grown tremendously, he said he is proud the district has remained steadfast in its approach to serving the citizens.

“We have a little more of a pro-active approach to the kinds of things the district needs, like good streets and water,” he said. “I can say quite frankly that a lot of attention has been given to me, but it has been a team effort. There isn’t an individual person who did it all.”

Nystrom said it hurts him when residents make comments alleging the board does not have the constituents’ best interest in mind.

“We want to hear what they have to say. This is truly a representative government. But if they don’t communicate with us except in a derogatory manner, we can’t respond to that,” he said.

Nystrom insists it is Mary Jean, who is planning on selling her hot-air balloon ride business of five years, Dream Weavers, who should be nominated for sainthood.

“It has been a struggle for her. She is selling the business because taking care of me and the business has been too much,” he said.

While his wife encourages him to take this time for himself and his family – Eric, 21, a senior history major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Gretchen, 16, a junior and cheerleader at Douglas High School – Nystrom said he will continue to do as much as he can for both the department and the GID.

“Your children are your legacy and I can point to them, but in addition to that, I can point to the fire department and the GID. I’ve done what I felt was a good job with both entities. I just wanted to do the best I could do,” he said. “I never thought it was a big deal. (Mary Jean) asked, ‘Haven’t I put in enough time?’ But I said, No.’

“I feel I owe it to the people. I’m still an elected official,” Nystrom said. “Until I’m not in office any more, I will keep doing what I can for the GID and the department and my family.”