Link Piazzo, an iconic Reno business and civic leader, war hero and philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to local causes, has died. He was 95 and died Friday morning at his home in Hidden Valley, according to his son, Craig.
“Link Piazzo is one of Northern Nevada’s great icons,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. “He served our country with dignity and honor and his generosity, goodwill and kindness have made an indelible impact on generations of Nevadans. I still fondly recall shopping at The Sportsman as a youth and seeing Link help his customers in his striped referee shirt. Kathleen and my thoughts and prayers go out to the Piazzo family during this difficult time.”
Link Piazzo and his brother, Chet, the sons of Italian immigrants, opened The Sportsman sporting goods store in 1938 and it remained in business for more than 60 years, supplying hunting and fishing supplies along with school sports equipment. Their distinctive black-and-white striped logo was a familiar site on dozens of football and baseball field scoreboards throughout the Truckee Meadows and Northern Nevada. “I remember going in there to buy ice skates,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. “I think it was the only place in town you could get them. I just remember him being really kind and generous and that he truly cared about this community. He gave so much to this community. It truly is a great loss for us.”
The Piazzo brothers also had a popular radio and TV program, “Sportsman’s Trails,” which was a favorite of hunting and fishing enthusiasts in the 1960s and ’70s. Chet Piazzo died in 2006.
“That’s an end of an era,” said Craig Piazzo of his father’s passing. “He had a full life.”
Link Piazzo was born in Reno on Dec. 11, 1918, attending Mary S. Doten Elementary School, Northside Junior High, and Reno High School, where he graduated in 1937. During World War II, Piazzo enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew B-25 bombers. He completed 67 combat missions and earned numerous commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned to Reno and The Sportsman after the war, but also began a lifelong commitment to community service. He said in a 2013 interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal it was his war experiences – including many narrow escapes that he detailed in his autobiography “It Can Always Be Worse” – that prompted him to give back. “When the war ended, I was on my way home on the boat and I said to myself, ‘God saved me for a reason. If I ever have any amount of money, I want to help people in my community,” Piazzo said. “That’s why I did it.”
He was the original “Voice of the Wolf Pack,” broadcasting University of Nevada football and basketball games; volunteered as the official scorer and timer for high school zone and state basketball tournaments for 33 years and was a co-organizer of the first Reno Little League and the city’s junior ski program. For many years after selling The Sportsman, he maintained an office upstairs at the store on Fourth and Vine streets, its walls decorated with photos and memorabilia of his war years, the many sports celebrities he interacted with and scores of awards he received through the years.
He was a member of Rotary International for more than 70 years and served on the boards of such organizations as the Reno YMCA, the Reno Rodeo Association, Sierra Nevada Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association, United Way and Hidden Valley Properties. He was a co-developer of the Hidden Valley neighborhood in southeast Reno.
As a philanthropist, Piazzo made million-dollar donations to the University of Nevada, Reno; the Nevada Humane Society and the Reno YMCA, while making large gifts to many other causes including his alma mater, Reno High. The school’s alumni center and its basketball court both are named after him. He also donated funding for the building of the Link Piazzo Dog Park inside Washoe County’s Hidden Valley Regional Park. Services are pending.