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Marinna Mori sings of the cowgirl way of life

ELKO – No one is ever too young to tell their story.

Just ask 10-year-old Marinna Mori.

Mori, with acoustic guitar in hand, stepped on the stage of the G Three Theater at the Western Folklife Center Monday night, lightly tipped her black cowboy hat to the audience, and launched into her first song, “Red River Valley.”

Standing in front of a sold-out crowd for “Anchoring the Tradition,” Mori performed “Buckaroo Man” and “Night Rider’s Lament” in her first and only performance during the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Before concluding her set, she introduced her final song, her own composition called “Country Cowgirl” that tells about living on her family’s ranch near Tuscarora — days filled with riding and roping, and moonlit nights of strumming her guitar.

Since she was 6 years old, Mori has been singing and playing the guitar, influenced by her grandfather, Ken Harriman, and her favorite singer, Trinity Seely, who joined her on stage for a duet of “Cricket Roll.”

So far, she’s performed mostly with Harriman and his band Southwind, but having the crowd give her a standing ovation that night was a surprise to her.

“I haven’t experienced that,” Mori said. “I was like, ‘that’s pretty cool.’”

Although the brightly lit stage of the G Three Bar Theater seems to contrast sharply with the rugged ranch life she experiences daily, Mori looks forward to the Gathering as an opportunity to share her way of life with audiences and other performers rather than seeking the spotlight.

“I think that’s her passion,” said Madison Mori, Marinna’s mother. “It’s important to her because she loves the culture … [and she] loves this lifestyle.”

Family members have called Marinna her father’s “right hand man” on the ranch, and, in turn, she declares her love for the wide open spaces and “being with family, riding, roping and spending time with the animals.”

Cowboy poetry week will be a busy one for Marinna and her family. They will make the hour-long drive from their ranch several times to take part in Gathering activities.

It also includes her second-year stint as co-host of the Young Buckaroos Open Mic and Talent Show on Jan. 31. It is the same stage she got her start on two years ago as a performer.

Marinna said she wants to continue singing and songwriting, adding that her true love will always be the cowgirl way of life.

“I love to live on a ranch and I never want to do anything else.”

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Former CIA officer, Eureka native, dead at 78

A former CIA officer who was born in Eureka, Nevada, helped rescue six U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1980, and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the film “Argo” is dead at 78.

A family statement and his literary agent confirmed that Antonio “Tony” Mendez died Jan. 19 at an assisted-living center in Frederick, Maryland. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, said his sister Nancy Wilson of Elko.

Specializing in covert operations, Mendez helped devise the plan under which six diplomats who were in hiding were disguised as a Canadian film crew so they could board a flight and escape the country amid the Iran hostage crisis. The daring plot — for years a side note to the 52 people held hostage for 444 days — captured the public’s attention in “Argo,” which won the 2013 Oscar for best picture.

Mendez, who joined the CIA after getting recruited in 1965, spent his 25-year career working undercover in Cold War battlegrounds, including the Soviet Union. Working as a “chief of disguise,” Mendez and his workers helped secret agents remain secret through creating false documents and disguises, according to a biography for his first book, “The Master of Disguise; My Secret Life in the CIA.”

“Tony Mendez was a true American hero. He was a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness,” Affleck tweeted Jan. 20. “He never sought the spotlight for his actions, he merely sought to serve his country. I’m so proud to have worked for him and to have told one of his stories.”

Wilson said Mendez will be buried in a private ceremony at the family graveyard near Tonopah.

She said their family has an extended history in Eureka, dating back to the Gold Rush. They moved to Colorado when the siblings were in their early teenage years.

Wilson and Mendez were interviewed by the Elko Daily Free Press when the movie “Argo” came out in October 2012.

“I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that Ben Affleck plays my big brother,” Wilson said at the time. “It’s hard to come to grips with that. I was really proud of him, but I get in awe of the fact that he is my brother. I tend to just sit back and be amazed by it.”

“He’s always been very brave and artistic,” Wilson said of her brother.

Before President Bill Clinton declassified the Argo mission in 1997, Wilson was kept in the dark as to her brother’s involvement with the CIA — for obvious reasons.

“It feels very strange to be giving away our best kept secrets,” Mendez told the Elko Daily during a phone interview. “It’s kind of unusual to retire from the CIA ... you’re used to saving the world on Tuesday, going back home on Wednesday, and no one is supposed to know what you’ve done. (Telling the story) requires quite the adjustment and a little gut-check.”

Mendez said he was very pleased with the movie.

“It’s a great story done in the style of the old Hollywood movies,” he said. “It looks real, because it is real.”

According to Mendez, the CIA also expressed approval of the film.

“The CIA seems to want to pass on the good stories, the good yarns to the public as a way to pass on lessons learned, which is hard to do (in this profession),” he said.

Mendez was born Nov.15, 1940, according to an obituary provided to the Elko Daily Free Press. His parents were Neva June Tognoni and John George Mendez.

He went to Englewood High School in Denver, and briefly attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. Years later he would be awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree from the school.

Tony married Karen Smith in 1960 and they had three children: Amanda Lynn of Smithsburg, Maryland; Antonio Tobias (Toby) of Knoxville, Maryland; and Ian Archer, deceased. Karen died in 1986 and in 1990 he married Jonna Hiestand, who survives him after a marriage of 27 years. They had one son, Jesse Lee Mendez of Charles Town, West Virginia. Two grandchildren, Kace McField and Phillip McField of Knoxville also survive him.

His siblings are Cindy (Mendez) Violante of Mesa, Arizona; Maureen (Richie) Bybee of San Andreas, California; and his Nancy (Richie) Wilson of Elko. His brother John F. Mendez and his sister Joey (Mendez) Ross preceded him in death.

Tony worked as an artist for Martin Marietta in Denver before responding to an ad in the paper for an artist to work overseas for the Navy. When he responded, he discovered it was the CIA and began a career of worldwide travel and international operations that culminated in the movie called “Argo.”

He was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Star and designated one of their “Trailblazers,” a group of 50 officers in the agency’s first 50 years that shaped the CIA.

He counted his life’s passions on three fingers: art, espionage, and golf, and in the 50 years he was active in painting he created and sold thousands of works of art. In his retirement he added a fourth category – author. His three existing books will be joined by one more, to be published posthumously in May. He was a founding board member of the International Spy Museum where an exhibit to honor him is being installed.

“He will be missed terribly by his friends and family,” stated the obituary. “In lieu of flowers, we request that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.”

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Winnemucca tax preparer gets 5 years in prison

RENO – A Winnemucca tax preparer was sentenced Tuesday to five years in federal prison for his role in a tax return conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada and Special Agent in Charge Tara Sullivan for the IRS-Criminal Investigation.

Thomas Michael Bidegary, 67, a former IRS employee who co-owned Winnemucca Tax and Bookkeeping Service, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax fraud and theft of government money.

“As tax season approaches, today’s sentence serves as a reminder that preparing or filing false tax returns is a crime,” said Trutanich. “Our office will continue to work closely with the IRS to pursue justice when individuals attempt to evade tax obligations.”

Sullivan said Bidegary used his knowledge as a former IRS employee to steal from his clients and the government.

Beginning in 2009 and continuing through December 2014, he advised clients that by making small “investments” in various businesses he owned, the clients could decrease their annual taxable income and increase their tax refunds. As part of the scheme, after receiving checks from clients, Bidegary would prepare false tax forms for the corresponding tax year that included large fictitious business losses in order to reduce the client’s taxable income and obtain a larger refund than what the client was entitled to receive.

As a result of the false tax returns, he caused a tax loss of approximately $259,880.

In a separate criminal case, Bidegary prepared and filed an unauthorized tax return on behalf of an elderly woman in Battle Mountain. After receiving the $12,500 tax refund, he deposited the check into a bank account which was then converted for his own personal use.

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Competing for the best bit design

ELKO – A 14-year tradition returns to the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering with the Great Basin Cowboy Trappings Gear Show and Sale.

Hosted by the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, the show runs through the week of the gathering, with a reception starting at 5 p.m. Feb. 1.

The highlight of this year’s gear show is the first annual bit design contest that will offer $5,000 in cash prizes sponsored by J.M. Capriola’s and the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority.

Thirteen contestants entered the inaugural contest, receiving a “blank canvas” of two G.S. Garcia Santa Barbara raw steel cheek pieces to craft a functional and unique steel bit, said John Wright, co-owner of Capriola’s.

“It’s whatever way they see the art go on the canvas,” Wright said. “It’s an equal contest because everybody has the same blank canvas to start from.”

The designers are a mix of local and out-of-state silversmiths, some of whom have worked on their bits anywhere from three months to three weeks, Wright said. The finished pieces that have already arrived for display at the Gear Museum range from overlay to inlay and steel engraved work.

Wright took one finished bit from the case and pointed to the intricate hammer and chisel single-point leaf and scroll pattern on the side.

“This is all steel engraved,” he said. “It’s a project by the Wolf family.”

Some bits have combinations of gold, sterling silver, brass, copper and steel and are fashioned in traditional, contemporary and classic designs, Wright said.

All bits are numbered and stamped with the Gear Museum’s brand logo and already have interesting backstories, with one bit crafted by a father-and-daughter team.

“It’s international, passing the torch,” said Jan Petersen, executive director of the Gear Museum. “It’s continuing the legacies and traditions.”

Three judges will award cash prizes to four winners at the reception Friday night.

Saddles, bits, spurs and rawhide braiding will be sold during the reception. Results of the silent auction will also be announced along with a people’s choice cash award for their favorite item in the Gear Show.

Additionally, the museum will feature photography by Elko County native and rancher Jennifer Bieroth Whitely.

The Gear Show and Sale continues a longstanding tradition at the poetry gathering that first started on the second floor of Capriola’s store before moving to the Elko County Fairgrounds and then to the Northeastern Nevada Museum.

Petersen said having the show in the building that once belonged to G.S. Garcia gives the Cowboy Gear and Arts Museum another way to maintain their mission statement, noting that the show falls on the museum’s first anniversary.

“It’s blending the old with the new and sustaining these traditions to show that they are alive and continuing,” Petersen said.