|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 22, 2009 - --Nearly 6,400 employees were on duty Nov. 22, 1989, when The Mirage opened.
Some 623 were still working for the hotel-casino Sunday when the resort celebrated its 20th anniversary.
"Why would I go anywhere else?" said Donald Hampton, who has been dealing cards at The Mirage since opening day.
He moved to the casino after 10 years dealing at the Golden Nugget.
"The Mirage was beyond my expectations back then, and I would say it's still top of the line today," Hampton said.
During his career, Hampton dealt cards to regular customers and celebrities, including actors Clint Eastwood and Whoopi Goldberg. Throughout the years, he befriended hundreds of regular customers.
"They all congratulate me on still being here," Hampton said.
Russ Colgrave Jr., a bartender at Kokomo's, sees many of the same customers year-after-year. In two decades, Colgrave has worked in every bar on the property. Kokomo's, The Mirage's original steakhouse, was remodeled in 2005.
Colgrave considered a transfer to CityCenter's Aria resort, but decided he's comfortable at The Mirage.
"I loved this place from the first time I saw it because it was so innovative. It was a catalyst. The Mirage helped create a whole new city."
Hampton and Colgrave remember the hoopla on opening day when thousands rushed up the driveway and through the front doors shortly after noon to check out the Strip's newest resort.
"I didn't expect to see all those people,' Hampton said. "My table filled up immediately."
Garland Cunningham, currently the hotel's director of technical services, was an electrician in 1989. He worked on the lighting for the opening ceremony that featured Mirage developer Steve Wynn, elected officials and entertainers Siegfried and Roy.
Cunningham saw the crowd heading up the driveway.
"We were starting to take some of the lighting stuff down. We turned around and saw everyone coming," he said. "I put one guy on each lighting tree and said, 'Don't let them knock it over.'"
Roy Bailey came to The Mirage with Siegfried and Roy and was the stage supervisor. He stayed after the entertainers retired and became director of entertainment operations. Even now, he said, the resort still has the magic that it promised 20 years ago.
"It isn't exactly the same look that it was in the beginning," Bailey said. "It's gone from a very tropical look to a very updated classy look. I like that we're always updating and trying something new."
Herb Stockner, an engineer, and his wife, Monalee, an employee training supervisor, both opened The Mirage and helped Wynn open his next resorts, Treasure Island and Bellagio. But they always returned to The Mirage.
"It's still a special place, and there are so many special spots inside the hotel," said Herb Stockner, who oversees the lighting for the atrium.
Monalee Stockner said she has enjoyed watching employees come in as entry-level workers and move up the ranks. She has worked for some employees that once worked for her.
Yolanda Acuna started out as the director of administration for The Mirage's race and sports book. The Mirage now serves as the hub for MGM Mirage's race and sports book operations. When Aria opens next month, she will have 10 books.
Twenty years ago, Acuna watched as The Mirage was built. She can't believe two decades have passed.
"It was so jammed with customers that every day seemed like the Super Bowl," Acuna said. "In some ways, it is still like it was 20 years ago. I still think it's one of the best properties around."
Thomas Barrett, who began at The Mirage as a painter and now is director of safety, agreed with Acuna's assessment. Before joining The Mirage, he worked at several older Strip casinos. Those properties deteriorated over time and through lack of attention, he said.
Barrett said Mirage Resorts and MGM Mirage haven't let that happen to The Mirage.
"Everything about The Mirage today is brand new. We've gotten older but stayed modern. It's changed with the times, which is good."
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz @reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.
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