Henderson was a soon-to-be-incorporated town with fewer than 5,000 residents when Genevieve Harper arrived in 1951.
The Moapa native took her three children to the township after a grueling divorce from Las Vegas doctor William C. Harper, in pursuit of a fresh start. She recalled trekking through the town’s major streets in search of a job.
Harper eventually became the rapidly growing city’s eyes and ears, befriending its people and politicians during a two-decade career as city clerk.
Nearly 30 years after her death, her two surviving children, Utah residents Glen Harper and Carol Harper Snow, arrived at the Henderson Historical Society in the Paseo Verde Library on June 23 to bequeath their mother’s documents to the society’s archives.
The siblings, both in their 70s, delivered Historical Society director Rick Watson a large cardboard box filled with memorabilia, including photos, news clippings, letters and other mementos.
Upon their arrival in Henderson, Harper and her children moved with her parents into a 600-square-foot house built for Basic Magnesium Plant workers. She then worked for four years as a secretary at Titanium Metals Corp.
In the midst of a recession in the mid-1950s, many residents left Henderson, Glen Harper said, adding that his mother was severely discouraged. After spending months looking for another job, Harper finally marched up to the old City Hall offices, which were originally Army barracks, on Water Street.
“She just walked in, said ‘I’d like to do some filing for you.’ She went up there every day and started filing papers,” Glen Harper said. “Within a month, they hired her.”
The siblings remember the former City Hall as a small room with tables, chairs and a counter behind which their mother typically sat at her typewriter.
Harper worked from 6 or 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. and often stayed later into the night.
“She was there till all hours of the night an awful lot, transcribing,” Snow said. “And believe me, it was an old typewriter. It wasn’t anything with electricity, but she had an even stroke.”
While she was at work, Harper’s mother, Vivian Hickman, took care of Glen, Carol and their younger brother, Jerry. Harper was dedicated to teaching her children morals, and when Snow stole a box of crayons from then-Mayor William B. Byrne’s convenience shop, Harper made her confess and repay him from her two-pennies-a-week allowance.
“This was before she was hired as a clerk. I think he remembered that with my mom, being so honest,” Snow said of Byrne. “I think that’s one of the reasons he knew he could count on her as an employee.”
Harper worked her way up to city clerk, and ensuring Henderson was an informed community was among her passions.
“They had a rule that you had to read the law proposition in two or three meetings before it could be passed and become law,” Glen Harper said. “She would always tape-record it, and then she’d play it in the background while the meeting was going on so it could be read in the public meeting.”
Harper had a series of heart attacks in the 1980s and was advised to take medical retirement. She died of a heart attack in 1990 at 74, but not before Glen Harper took her to the new City Hall, built in 1989, so she could see the changes.
“When she died, she was living in St. George, and we walked out with everything she owned and put it in the back of my station wagon,” he said. “I’ve been packing this stuff around with me ever since.”
At the conclusion of the Harper siblings’ interview with the Historical Society, Watson told them of an article written by their mother in April 1968, predicting Henderson’s future.
“I feel that by 1980, Henderson will have doubled or tripled its population,” Harper wrote. “Henderson already has the land, the power and the water to take care of this increase. With people moving from the East to the sparsely settled West, common sense tells us that Henderson will have to grow.”
Henderson population by decade:
Source: City of Henderson