Wilbur D. May was born on December 28, 1898, in Denver, Colorado. He was the third son of David May, founder of the May Company Department Stores. Wilbur's older siblings started working in the growing family business, but Wilbur had other plans. By the time he was a teenager, he was both rebellious and more inclined to spend his time outdoors than behind the counter of a store. In 1914, at the age of sixteen, Wilbur ran away from home to join British forces in Europe. World War I had just begun, and Wilbur found that if his age and nationality prevented him from fighting, they did not prevent him from becoming an ambulance driver. When the United States entered the conflict, Wilbur joined the expeditionary forces and quickly advanced through the ranks to major.
Wilbur developed another passion, which he pursued throughout his lifetime: big game hunting. His appetite was whetted by a hunting trip to Alaska where he collected his first major trophies; Wilbur became an avid hunter and began to plan his many safaris to Africa and other countries.
In 1925, Wilbur was called on the carpet by his father and brother and informed that if he wished to continue in the business, his vacations would be for the customary duration of two weeks a year.
However, Wilbur's abiding interest in hunting continued to rule his life, and he began planning what was to be his most extensive trip to date to Africa. It was at this time, in July of 1927, that his father died, leaving a substantial inheritance to his family. Much of Wilbur's money was to remain in trust
Because his African sojourn would keep him out of the country for a year, Wilbur decided to sell all of his securities and purchase Government Bonds prior to his departure. That decision proved to be a fortuitous one, because while Wilbur was gone, the Stock Market crashed. When he returned in 1930, he found that he could buy back the stocks he sold a year earlier at a rate of twenty to one.
Quite suddenly independently wealthy, Wilbur was now able to pursue his adventurous dreams with a clear conscience. His good fortune also stimulated an interest in serious investing, an interest which would stand him in good stead in later life.
When California instituted a personal income tax
, Wilbur began investigating other places to live. He focused on
Reno, Nevada, and set out to give the area a thorough tryout before making it his permanent home. In 1936, he rented a house in Washoe Valley - a property that would become the Flying M E Guest Ranch, a famous Nevada dude-divorce ranch. Two years later he bought a 2,600 acre ranch of his own in southwest Reno. Wilbur had finally found a home and a new business as well.
The Double Diamond Ranch, the brand for which was a combination of Wilbur's first and last initials stacked on each other, was soon known for its prize herd of purebred Black Angus cattle. Wilbur also bred Boston Bull Terriers and developed one of the finest kennels in the country.
Returning to Reno, Wilbur divided his time between the cattle business and travel. Winters were spent skiing in Switzerland, Austria, France, and from 1948 onward, Wilbur traveled on an annual safari to Africa. During the 1950s, he began to raise quarter horses. Silver King, his champion quarter horse, sired many of the champion racing, working, and show quarter horses that added prestige to the Double Diamond Ranch.
The decade of the 1960s was one of philanthropy for Wilbur, who preferred to remain an anonymous donor. During this time, he was a principal supporter of the Reno Y.W.C.A. and the Northern Nevada Children's Home, as well as countless other worthy causes.
When Wilbur died on January 20, 1982, he left plans for a museum and arboretum to reflect his deep and long-standing concern for the welfare and education of children. The Wilbur D. May Center is the final tangible evidence of that concern which spanned more than four decades.
Wilbur D. May Museum and Arboretum
1595 N. Sierra Street
Inside Rancho San Rafael Regional Park
Reno, Nevada 89503
Museum (775) 785-5961
Arboretum (775) 785-4153