Kenny C. Guinn, 69, was
first elected Governor of Nevada in 1998. He was re-elected in
2002, capturing 68% of the vote, one of the widest margins of
victory in a gubernatorial race in the state’s history. By Nevada
law, he is term-limited and will leave office in January 2007.
Born in Arkansas, Guinn
and his family moved to the small Central Valley community of
Exeter, California at an early age. The son of migrant farm
workers, Guinn was encouraged and prompted by his parents to get a
good education. Helped along by many encouraging teachers and
coaches, Guinn took this advice to heart and worked to prepare
himself for the possibility of attending college.
Another thing he took to
heart in high school was his wife of now 49 years, Dema. Kenny and
Dema began dating in high school, got married while he was in
college, and have been together ever since.
While attending Exeter
High School, Guinn excelled at several sports: football, basketball,
track, and swimming. He was good enough in the decathlon—a test of
ten various track events—that he made it to the California AAU
Championships his junior year. The young man he lost to, Rafer
Johnson, went on to win the Gold Medal in the decathlon in the 1960
Although he enjoyed all
sports, football was his love and Guinn also realized it was his
best ticket to earn a college scholarship. In his senior year, a
scout from the University of Southern California (USC) attended a
game to check out the young running back. That day, Guinn ran for
280 yards and scored five touchdowns. USC soon came calling and
offered Guinn a scholarship to the prestigious university.
His parents’ dream would
soon be fulfilled; their son, Kenny, would be the first in their
family to attend college.
After being told by
legendary USC football coach Jess Hill that he would have to focus
on football and give up basketball, Guinn decided to transfer back
home to Fresno City College and later to Fresno State University,
where he was named senior back of the year in 1958.
Guinn earned his
undergraduate and graduate degrees in Physical Education from Fresno
State University. He later obtained a doctorate in Education from
Utah State University.
Upon graduation and
after four years of teaching in high school, the family Guinn—Kenny,
Dema and their first son, Jeff—moved to Las Vegas where Guinn went
from central office administration to Clark County School District
Superintendent in just five years. During that time, the couple’s
second son, Steve, was born.
In 1978, Guinn began
applying his management skills in the private sector as
Administrative Vice President for Nevada Savings and Loan, which
later became PriMerit Bank. Once again, he quickly advanced
through the management ranks and, in 1987, was appointed Chairman of
the Board of Directors.
His success did not go
unnoticed in the business community. In 1988, Southwest Gas
Corporation made Guinn an offer he couldn’t refuse: President of the
giant company. His involvement with the Southwest Gas culminated
with him being named Chairman of the Board in 1993.
Education had played a
prominent role in Guinn’s life, providing him opportunities and
opening doors that he had never imagined as a young boy growing up
poor. So when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) sought his
assistance in righting the university, Guinn accepted the position.
However, he refused to take the salary, except for one dollar; the
rest was donated to UNLV’s scholarship program and other
activities. Guinn instituted administrative and policy changes that
helped the university regain its momentum as an ever-expanding urban
The Governor and First
Lady continue to volunteer their time and effort on behalf of
countless organization, commissions, and charities, something that
has always played an important role in their professional lives.
The Guinns reside in
Carson City at the Governor’s Mansion and have another home in Las
Vegas. They are in the process of building a second home in
northern Nevada. Besides their sons, the Guinns have two
daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.