weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Trailblazing Dondero left piles of achievements, trail of tales

A teary Marilyn Dondero Loop made one request of the hundreds of people at her mother’s celebration of life. “Share Mom’s story for generations to come,” she said Saturday.

Thalia Dondero was a trailblazer.

She was also a magnificent storyteller.

Her friend of 42 years, Marydean Martin said, “One of Thalia’s favorite gifts to the community was what became a sought-after silent auction item at local galas called ‘Dinner for Four at Thalia’s Mount Charleston Cabin.’ It became so popular that she had to keep it down to only two a month.” Guests would win dinner, mountain views and Dondero’s stories.

“Everything about her was so positive,” Martin recalled, following Dondero’s death Sept. 4 at age 96. “Everywhere you look, you can see things she saved.”

She worked to keep houses out of the Red Rock and Gilcrease Ranch areas. She pushed to beautify the Strip. The list is endless. Preservation, parks and education were just a few passions for the mother of five.

Some of her stories became legendary, like being told to take notes at a closed personnel meeting in 1975, a year after she had become the first woman elected to the Clark County Commission. She refused and said, “I’ve got the same votes you have.” Nor was she quiet about it. It made national news.

Outside of her love of her family, high on Dondero’s love list were the Girl Scouts and Brownies. One day Dondero took Brownies out to the Spring Mountain Ranch for day camping. Vera Krupp, who owned the ranch between 1955 and 1967, not to mention that 33.19 karat Krupp diamond, ordered the Brownies off her property. Dondero refused to leave, so Krupp sent a bull into the area. He just stood around, The Brownies dubbed him “Lonesome George” and kept camping.

I loved that story, and countless others, like how she finagled state Sen. Floyd Lamb, D-Las Vegas, into supporting a park he insisted the state couldn’t afford. “We named the park after him, and the money was found,” she told me in 2009.

“Our lives are better because of her,” said Father Bill Kenny of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Political consultant Billy Vassiliadis told a story that was pure Dondero. Folks were dumping trash in a neighborhood and she got it stopped. Someone said that’s her job.

“This isn’t her district,” was the reply.

It didn’t matter to Dondero that these were not her constituents. There was a problem to be solved and she made sure it was fixed.

The funniest story came from family friend Jim Germain, who described how she came home from a function and saw her desert tortoise in the swimming pool. Fully clothed, she jumped in to rescue the tortoise, saving his life.

“Thalia was not going to let a desert tortoise die on her watch,” Germain said.

Catherine Cortez Masto, whose father Manny Cortez served with Dondero, said when there was a particularly unpopular vote, when she was chairman, other commissioners wanted her to vote first. “After all, how can anyone be mad at Thalia?”

“She broke the barrier for women in public office,” said Cortez Masto, herself trying to become the first woman from Nevada in the U.S. Senate. “She never gave up fighting for women’s rights.”

Retired educator Charlie Silvestri reminded the audience at Las Vegas Academy that Dondero led the fight to create Nevada State College in Henderson, and suggested there should be a naming there for the former two-term university regent.

I second that.

It would be the right thing to do, especially for a woman who didn’t take a bribe from an undercover FBI agent during the days of Operation Yobo, an investigation in the 1980s of corrupt state and local officials. While others took bribes in exchange for zoning changes, Dondero accepted $500 cash as a campaign donation, and wrote the undercover agent a receipt for it.

I’ll always remember Thalia Dondero as one of the honest ones, out to improve her community, not enrich herself.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Cab riders experiencing no-shows urged to file complaints

If a cabbie doesn’t show, you must file a complaint. Otherwise, the authority will keep on insisting it’s just not a problem, according to columnist Jane Ann Morrison. And that’s not what she’s hearing.

Are no-shows by Las Vegas taxis usual or abnormal?

In May former Las Vegas planning commissioner Byron Goynes waited an hour for a Western Cab taxi that never came. Is this routine or an anomaly?

Columnist shares dad’s story of long-term cancer survival

Columnist Jane Ann Morrison shares her 88-year-old father’s story as a longtime cancer survivor to remind people that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a hopeless end.

Las Vegas author pens a thriller, ‘Red Agenda’

If you’re looking for a good summer read, Jane Ann Morrison has a real page turner to recommend — “Red Agenda,” written by Cameron Poe, the pseudonym for Las Vegan Barry Cameron Lindemann.

Las Vegas woman fights to stop female genital mutilation

Selifa Boukari McGreevy wants to bring attention to the horrors of female genital mutilation by sharing her own experience. But it’s not easy to hear. And it won’t be easy to read.

Biases of federal court’s Judge Jones waste public funds

Nevada’s most overturned federal judge — Robert Clive Jones — was overturned yet again in one case and removed from another because of his bias against the U.S. government.

Don’t forget Jay Sarno’s contributions to Las Vegas

Steve Wynn isn’t the only casino developer who deserves credit for changing the face of Las Vegas. Jay Sarno, who opened Caesars Palace in 1966 and Circus Circus in 1968, more than earned his share of credit too.

John Momot’s death prompts memories of 1979 car fire

Las Vegas attorney John Momot Jr. was as fine a man as people said after he died April 12 at age 74. I liked and admired his legal abilities as a criminal defense attorney. But there was a mysterious moment in Momot’s past.