On Saturday, Jan. 18, Pat Dyer will become the 38th person since 1969 – the first year the honor was bestowed – to receive the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Elza Kilroy Award for exceptional community service. Who was Elza Kilroy and why was he chosen to have an award named in his honor? I was fortunate to have known and worked on many community projects with Elza. He was also a lodge brother until his death in 1981. Here is a brief biography of the man and his accomplishments.
Elza John Kilroy was born on the Kuster’s wheat ranch in Yuba County near the Nevada County line March 6, 1896, to William and Susan Kuster Kilroy. His maternal grandfather owned the property, which is now part of Beale Air Force Base. The old ranch house once served as the officer’s club at Camp Beale.
Elza never had any recollection of either of his parents. His mother died within months of his birth. His father, a Nevada City police officer working the position of night watchman, was stabbed to death in the line of duty in 1899; Elza was 3 years old.
The youth grew up in Nevada City as a member of the James Flewellan family and attended the old Washington School, which was on the site of the present Nevada City Elementary School at Main and Cottage streets. Elza earned pocket money by delivering newspapers, doing odd jobs at the Miners Foundry, and hauling stove wood in a horse-drawn wagon to customers in the Blue Tent area of rural Nevada City.
While still a teenager he moved to Sacramento, where he worked briefly before returning to Nevada City to begin his career in 1914 with the United States Post Office. He was just 18 years old. Here he was a fixture until illness forced a disability retirement in 1946.
On June 26, 1919, Elza Kilroy and Luvia Worthington were united in marriage at 318 Drummond Street, Nevada City, where the couple would spend their entire lives.
It was in this house that Luvia was born to William and Nellie Worthington Sept. 24, 1899. The house came into the Worthington family around 1873 when Luvia’s grandfather bought the property that remained in the immediate family for some 110 years.
A son, William, was born to the couple in 1922. Bill and his wife, Beverly, are the parents of two sons and still reside on Nevada Street.
In July 1969, Elza and Luvia Kilroy celebrated their Golden Wedding at the Nevada City Veteran’s building on North Pine Street. I covered the event and wrote this account for The Independent:
“Elza and Luvia Kilroy celebrated their Golden Wedding Sunday … and what an event it was!
“Friends came from around the state and the nation to wish the couple many happy returns of their Golden Day.
“Nevada City’s Congressman Harold Johnson came … (as did) Sacramento’s Mayor Richard Marriott, who recalled as a boy eating bread and syrup in the Kilroy’s kitchen after fishing all day in Hirschman’s Pond.
“Master of Ceremonies Bob Paine read letters and telegrams from friends and dignitaries, including Governor Ronald Reagan congratulating the Kilroys and praising them for their years of public service to Nevada City. Some 300 friends and relatives passed along the reception line during the afternoon.”
Elza Kilroy’s community service began around the time of the first World War when, in 1914, he joined the Nevada City Volunteer Fire Department, the year he went to work for the U.S. Post Office. He served as chief engineer in 1921-22 and would remain a lifetime member, both active and retired, all his life.
Elza was a prominent founding father of Nevada City’s first Rotary Club and was a lifetime member. His work on endless Chamber of Commerce committees was legendary. It was said that if Kilroy did not work on the 4th of July Committee “he was probably too ill to stand.”
He served on the Nevada City Planning Commission for 14 years. Elza was one of the first directors of the newly formed Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in the early 1960s. He was active in the formation of the Nevada County Historical Society and wrote a number of its bulletins. The society named him Citizen of the Year in 1955.
Kilroy was one of the original members of the Liberal Arts Commission that raised funds to purchase and save California’s oldest theater, the Nevada Theatre. The LAC has since become the Nevada Theatre Commission. He also took part in Golden Days, the variety show that kicked off the fund-raising drive in 1965.
He was a member of and active in the many charitable activities of myriad fraternal organizations, including: Hydraulic Parlor No. 56, Native Sons of the Golden West, 65-year member; California Congress of Parents and Teachers, lifetime member; Nevada City Elks Lodge No. 518; Sons in Retirement; and E Clampus Vitus Chapter No. 10, Nevada City. There were many other organizations that benefited by his membership throughout the years.
E Clampus Vitus honored Elza in 1958 by naming him clampatriarch of Chapter No. 8591. This was a lifetime honor and it carried forward when Chapter No. 8591 combined with Chapter No. 10.
Elza and Luvia Kilroy were honored in 1979 when the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce named them “Mr. and Mrs. Nevada City.”
At Christmas, the Kilroys sent cards with historic Nevada County scenes to their many friends. I considered myself honored to have been included on the “A” list.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
Recipients of the Kilroy Award
1969 Frank Gallino*
1970 John Rankin*
1971 Ruby Nobles
1972 Bob Paine*
1973 David Osborn* and
1975 Isabel Hefelfinger*
1976 Marion Ghidotti*
1977 Helen Ray*
1978 Elza Kilroy*
1979 Elva and Luvia Kilroy*
1980 Downey Clinch*
1981 Bob Wyckoff
1982 Vin* and Joan Agar
1983 Tom Coleman
1984 Charles Allert*
1985 Don Baggett
1986 Ed Tyson
1987 Don Schmitz
1988 Lon Cooper*
1989 Roman* and Brita Rozynski
1990 Jim Mackey
1991 George and Pat Harper
1992 Paul Matson
1993 Barbara Tanner
1994 Lowell Robinson
1995 Herb Dodino
1996 Bill Wetherall
1997 R. Peter Ingram*
1998 Madelyn Helling
1999 John Olmsted
2000 Sharon Tobiassen
2001 Steve Cottrell
2002 Pat Dyer
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