Jess Lopategui was born November 4, 1938, in Spain. At the age of 15, he arrived in Elko in 1957 under a three-year contract to herd sheep for the Western Range Association. At the end of his second contract he attended school in California and returned to Elko in 1966.
While working as a bartender at the Nevada House, he met Denise Arregui. They married in 1967 and raised their children, Mikel and Maite, in Elko. Jess started working at Elko Blacksmith Shop, owned by Denise’s parents Frank and Elena Arregui, in 1971. He and Denise joined the company as partners in 1980.
An original member of the Basque Club that began in 1959, Jess helped organize the National Basque Festival, serving as an announcer for the events. He also enters in the Sheepherder’s Bread Contest and Auction, baking bread in a traditional oven he once used as a sheepherder.
Lopategui’s involvement in the Basque community also included a weekly radio broadcast spoken in the Basque language for sheepherders in the area from 1968 to 1980.
Over the years, Jess has contributed to promoting his culture and heritage in various ways. Notably, he organized the planting of saplings from the Tree of Gernika, a symbol of Basque history, at the Basque Club House and at the Peace Park. In 2003, he was chosen as grand marshal of the Basque Festival Parade.
Using his skills from the Blacksmith shop, Lopategui designed and built a giant shovel to represent the Shovel Brigade, a response to the South Canyon Road dispute in Jarbidge. Lopategui also built a large bucket as a symbol for a similar land issue in Klamath Falls, Ore.
After the war in Iraq began, Lopategui created a 13½ foot tall candle, designed to burn in honor of the armed services fighting overseas. In 2003, the Elko County Commissioners presented a plaque in recognition of his contributions to the county through his specialized creations.
In 2005, Jess and Denise sold Elko Blacksmith and retired. They continue to live in Elko and participate in the Basque Club and National Basque Festivals held every year.