By Lupita P. Gonzales
For the Optic
One never knows which personality will emerge at any given time — the jokemeister, the historian/researcher, Mr. Super-Memory, or just plain Bruce.
Nevertheless, locals are familiar with Bruce Wertz’ humor. “I didn’t study sense of humor in college. I don’t think I was ever considered the class clown in school.”
A Las Vegas native, Wertz was born March 8, 1948, to Edith (Trumbull) and William Wertz. The “middle child,” Wertz has an older brother, Billy, and a younger brother, Rich. The Wertz name was associated locally with tennis, as well as with the local sporting goods store that once stood on the site currently occupied by the Optic.
Admittedly with ironic undertones, Wertz comments, “I am the only one of the Wertzes left in town associated with tennis.”
He openly confesses not having liked tennis when he was younger, despite having grown up in the milieu. He added,” Bruce is the black sheep of the family.”
In spite of his self-effacing comments, Wertz did play tennis for Robertson High School for two years and another two years at New Mexico Highlands University, where, as Wertz emphasizes, his father was tennis coach.
His family boasted a celebrated history with the sport. Wertz’s mother was Tennis Conference Champion at New Mexico Tech and also New Mexico state runner-up in tennis doubles in the 1930s. His father, Bill, was two-time high school tennis champ in Las Vegas. Older brother Billy qualified for state tennis competition four times; he was third in doubles in state once and district champ once. Wertz’s younger brother, Rich, took second in singles one year and third another.
Wertz graduated from Robertson in 1966. In his wry way, he boasts that his standing was No. 121 in a class of 205.
After consulting with Highlands professor John S. Johnson, Wertz opted to attend Cochise Junior College in Douglas, Ariz. He completed his general studies there, and in 1968, Wertz transferred to Highlands, where he pursued a B.A. degree in history, completing his undergraduate studies in 1971. He subsequently returned to Highlands to do graduate coursework in secondary education and earned his teaching credentials in 1973.
Wertz muses over his college experiences: “My first year in college (at Cochise), I had two different rooms and eight different roommates.”
He jokes that he was lucky his parents didn’t ship him back, given that he was “at best a 2.4 average student.” Asked why he chose to major in history, in typical Bruce mode, he quipped, “It was easier than majoring in science and math.”
During his years at Highlands, Wertz continued working at his father’s sporting goods store, and although he applied for positions at local schools, as he put it, “It bore no fruit.”
He was placed on the substitute list for Las Vegas City Schools and took a part-time position administering Civil Service and Armed Services Vocational Battery exams locally, in Pecos and Springer. Eventually, Wertz did substitute at RHS, and in the mid-to-late ‘70s became associated with the Robertson High School tennis program.
Subsequently, from 1985 to 1987, despite his earlier “indifference” toward tennis, Wertz served as one of two assistant tennis coaches for the girls’ program at RHS. In 1991-92, he was the head girls’ tennis coach. In 1992, Wertz gave up the lead coaching position, but continued working with Coach Leroy Fulgenzi and his son, Juan Carlos.
These days, Wertz can usually be found at the Las Vegas City Schools central office building, where he provides general information to visitors and directs them to various offices. He has held the position of receiving clerk/receptionist since the mid-’80s. He still works in this capacity, but currently is working half-time.
So what is Wertz doing the rest of the time? It depends.
Quizzed about his joker reputation, Wertz passes the buck, somewhat.
“I get my jokes from other people,” he says. “Due to being unable to sleep sometimes, I have to think of something or other and occupy my time thinking of jokes or remembering jokes from the distant past.”
Wertz says he takes “mental health weekends” in Albuquerque from time to time. He spends hours at the Highlands and Carnegie libraries doing various searches, which result in the “super researcher and recall,” reputation that he has earned.
He has spent considerable time researching family background. For example, Wertz says that his great-grandfather, U.S. Senator Trumbull from Illinois, beat Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois — the same seat Barack Obama held before he was elected president.
Wertz says his research activity keeps him occupied.
“It’s less than an avocation and more than a hobby. I don’t see myself as mentally curious. It started out as something to do — random choosing; from listings, from there I go on to further research.” He refers to a project done by Jean Whiting, a former English teacher at West Las Vegas and former managing editor of the Optic, involving a survey of the tombstones at three local cemeteries. That information led Wertz to do further research at such sites as findagrave.com.
But Wertz goes a step further. When he finds out information derived from the tombstone listings, he follows up and attempts to contact family members regarding his findings.
The information is not only on paper. Wertz has a memory that just doesn’t seem to quit, as when he was able to spout information from a random mention someone made about Ruth Ann Roberts Jones of tennis fame. Apparently, in Wertz’s earlier tennis research, he had come across the fact that she was an interscholastic tennis champ sometime around 1946. Who else but Wertz would have known that?
In the rest of his “spare time,” Wertz plays bridge monthly with a group at Dr. Cordell Halverson’s. He also is an active member the local Presbyterian Church.
The jokemeister taking over, Wertz says doing his research at library computer sites is “Easier than my buying a computer and purchasing internet service.” He adds, “Bruce Wertz is so cheep that when he leaves the HU library, they say, ’bye, bye, birdie.’”
Regarding his plans for the future, Wertz characteristically retorts, “My main aspiration now is to stay alive!”