In Memory of Charlene Cruze, 1941-2014

Written by Art Chesmore

Char at the Mormon Fort Feb 22 2014
On Thursday, March 6, 2014, colleague and friend Charlene Cruze died from injuries sustained in an accident at the Valley of Fire State Park. Charlene succumbed in the place she loved, and doing what she loved; guiding visitors around Las Vegas and through the Mojave Desert.

In 2009 Char was selected by the Las Vegas Tourist Guides Guild to be honored as the Tour Guide of the Decade. The distinguished award, for 37 years of tour guiding service in and around Las Vegas, was presented in a special ceremony in City Hall by Oscar Goodman, then Mayor of the City of Las Vegas.

Char was a founding director, member, and educational committee chairperson in the Las Vegas Tourist Guides Guild. Char founded Creative Adventures Ltd in 1976, and conducted private tours throughout the Southwest.

Char and the City of Las Vegas grew up together. Her parents were living at “Vegas Camp” in 1941 when she was born. There were 8,000 people in the valley. They built their first home where the Stratosphere Tower now stands, at the beginning of the fabulous Las Vegas Strip. The year she was born, the first resort hotel was built on the strip. WWII had brought the military to the area and from that dynamic era on, there was a growing love affair between this young lady and an emerging metropolis.

Her family history in the region goes back four generations. In 1855, her great-grandfather helped with the first settlement in Las Vegas. Her great-grandmother became the first school teacher in Clark County. Her grandparents helped build the first railroad station in 1905 (the year Las Vegas became a city). Her parents began trucking and road building operations in 1927 as the Boulder Canyon Project began (Hoover Dam). They built many of the first roads in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California, including Hwy. 91. Char retains her father’s I.C.C. permit, the first ever issued in the State of Nevada.

With a father in the construction business and a beautiful mother (usually dressed in satin and lace), she was introduced to a world of ballet, piano, road construction, and mining. A stream of blue construction language was as natural to her ear as the language of classical music. She grew up through a childhood of dreams and dirt. Practicing her dancing on the flat bed of a diesel truck, tripping her fingers over the keyboard of an old upright piano from the Red Rooster Bar, driving her Dad’s heavy equipment through the desert, and listening to the songs of the wind through the cottonwood trees. Being born the same year as the arrival of the mafia and the military has provided some very interesting history.

She was fortunate to have experienced the freedom and harmony of a clean desert environment while riding horseback through the mesquite and creosote. She grew to appreciate the untouched beauty of areas like Redrock, Valley of Fire and Mt. Charleston. She swam in pools of natural artisan water at the old ranch and twin lakes and the concrete pools of the first hotels on the Strip.

She attended the opening of Bugsy’s famous Flamingo Hotel in 1946 with her mother and father; saw Elvis’ first appearance in 1956; caught the Beatles on their world tour, and grew up listening to old-timers tell of the history and beauty of the west through stories and songs.

A variety of events rounded out her week including workshops, commissioned art and calligraphy work, business meetings and touring visitors around Las Vegas, through the Mojave Desert, and into canyonlands, ghost towns and Indian sites around the area. Proud of her heritage, Char enjoyed providing professional tour services for the many delegates and visitors that arrive here. Her love of the land was apparent as she shared her special perspective of southern Nevada, Indian cultures and legends. She was a storyteller and recorded many of these stories in written form as her legacy to Las Vegas. As part of the Nevada Women’s History Project, she profiled some of her ancestors through oral storytelling and cowboy-style poetry. Many of these original poems she then put to music.

Her achievements number many including Nevada State Literary Award, Past President of American Mothers Association of Nevada, member in the National Music Teachers Association (music teacher for 25 years), founding member of The American School of Japanese Arts, Women of Achievement Finalist in Arts, Golden Gleaner Award, Co-Chair of the Nevada Women’s History Project, and active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, member of the Old Spanish Trail Association and member of 631 teamsters. Her art has been exhibited in galleries and museums in many western states and she was elected into the National League of Penwomen of America in the category of art.

As a teacher, her classes ranged from keyboard and calligraphic arts, to history of southern Nevada and the Mojave Desert. She was a docent with Friends of Red Rock. Pioneering calligraphy classes in Las Vegas, she began teaching in 1980 at UNLV. While her classes were sprinkled with humor and constant encouragement, they revealed a no-nonsense attitude toward her craft she refers to as the “zen of learning.” She created a movingly personal art form which bounces with the spontaneous freedom of oriental brush and watercolor and the discipline of traditional calligraphic hands. Her provocative poetry, written in a simple and powerful style reminiscent of Japanese Haiku, brings additional depth to the work.

Her life’s work was called “Earth Mark” in reverence to her Indian name. She produced her own line of greeting cards and published stories and poetry. Her fine art has a freshness and directness which is truly expressive of the beauty and clarity of the dramatic desert environment she loved so much.

Her Indian heritage (Cherokee\Algonquin) gave her a deep respect of the earth and love of storytelling. These attributes brought an enjoyable dimension to her tours and art. She was a registered member of the northern Tsalage Nation in Virginia, held membership and was presiding Elder in Nevada for the Kaweah Nation, representing all Native Americans in the western states. She was a minister with the Native American Church.

Char was an indefatigable worker with a strong penchant for perfection and personal integrity which expressed itself in both her art and personal life. She was a licensed minister and performed weddings and other ceremonies. Her beautiful family included two sons, two daughters, four grandchildren, and with the birth of her first great-granddaughter, the circle of seven had been created in the Las Vegas Valley. They will always be at the center of her heart.

Char brought to her audience a profound knowledge of regional history and human nature; acting in all things with an overview of wide experience and keen vision. She was a perceptive participant in the process of living and giving of herself.

Visitation and service will commence on Saturday March 15 at 11:00 am at the La Paloma Funeral Home, 5450 Stephanie Street, Las Vegas, NV 89122. In lieu of flowers, Charlene’s family respectfully requests that donations be given to assist with final financial obligations, or any animal, cancer, or Indian charity in her name. Donations may be presented to David Kerr (son), or mailed to David Kerr c/o Post Office Box 94043, Las Vegas, NV 89193-4043.


  1. Anne Dilworth says

    Could NOT BELIEVE the words I was reading sent from Art. Char was our (daughter and myself) all day guide about 3-4 yrs. ago. We had a wonderful day with Char. In addition to a drive out to Hoover /Boulder dam and a boat ride on the river and anything else. Stories about her ancestors, her parents, her fathers work on the Hoover dam project… info on the Art -deco bldgs, she was terrific. Even took my daughter to a great ‘rock’ and gem store…. On my daughter’s must do list. Our wonderful day with Char. Char is a new star twinkling in the sky. Anne Dilworth – Tour Guide, Austin. Tx

  2. I only met Char twice, both times at the High Scaler Cafe at Hoover Dam, but I’ve heard so much about her over the 8 years I’ve been a Las Vegas guide that I feel I knew her better than I did.

    What a grievous loss for our industry, and what an even deeper loss for her friends and family.

    RIP, Char.

  3. Anne Angora says

    Char my dear friend, I am truely thankful for all that she has done for me. I met Char in 1983 working at Dick Blick. I was raising 3 daughters by my self and she would give me calligraphy, airbrush and many other kinds of side work to help me out. These jobs put food on my table and gave me confidence that I did not have.
    We have kept in touch after all these years, birthdays, holidays and email.
    Char was a kind and great person who has left her mark on the earth. I will love her always.

  4. Walter Prest says

    i am so sad that Char is not with us , I was planning a visit to Vegas for the sole purpose of having a trip with her again.She stood out as a wonderful person who loved her life and gave the experience of it to others with such passion.I am a British citizen who only met her once

  5. Thank you for your comment, Walter. Char was one of a kind, indeed full of passion for life, learning, and her beloved Las Vegas and greater Southwest, and she left lasting impressions with those of us lucky enough to have known her. She is missed, and we appreciate your rememberance. For your possible upcoming trip, you may consider contacting Char’s close friend and colleague, Art Chesmore (see our Members Page for contact info). All the best, Jerry P.