When Lorena “Renee” Searles moved to Clark County in 1952, everything looked different.
Not only was it a different time, but the area had a different atmosphere. There were fewer people, less traffic and in a way, fewer worries, she said. After purchasing their North Las Vegas home in 1954, her family quickly began building a strong community with their surrounding neighborhood.
With the help of her husband, Jim, the former stay-at-home mother raised three strong-willed daughters: Donna Searles, Diana Lawson and Sandy Searles Miller, a former Las Vegas teacher who became a Nevada first lady. Donna died from heart complications at age 30.
Searles became actively involved in volunteering at every school carnival and chaperoning school dances. She also used her free time to install the pews in St. Christopher Church when it was constructed.
In 1957, Searles served as PTA president of Jefferson Elementary School and became a lifetime member of the organization at the state convention in 1958.
Last year at age 85, Searles continued her activism by attending a Clark County School District trustee meeting to advocate for a replacement school for J.D. Smith Middle School, where she pleaded for better facilities for the children in the neighborhood.
Searles has five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She continues living in the same house in North Las Vegas.
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee honored her with a proclamation that declared June 1 as Lorena Searles Day.
View recently sat down with Searles for a question-and-answer session.
Why did you move to North Las Vegas?
My father-in-law was so crazy about the girls that he talked us into moving here. My husband, Jim, found a job in construction, and we first moved to Hidden Valley. We eventually settled in North Las Vegas where half of the people here were families, and there were also a couple of principals.
How have you seen the city change since moving here?
It’s completely changed. Since living here, I’ve seen it grow from a small town to a big city. It’s never had a good reputation, but what people say about the city is not always true. My kids had so much fun growing up here. There used to be Thursday night dances, and they built a swimming pool for the kids. It was great.
Now the city has nice areas like those around Aliante. It really has become a beautiful city. There are also great schools here.
What type of changes would you like to see the city make?
I’d like to see our neighborhood get cleaned up a bit more. I wish this could be declared a historical neighborhood since it’s been here for so long. The main thing that I wish is that the city would enforce all of the rules.
What is the key to raising confident and successful daughters?
My husband played a big role in that. He was an absolutely wonderful father, and he could make and do anything. One year when they were in first and second grade, he dressed up as Santa Claus for the kids. He walked into Diana’s classroom, and she didn’t recognize it was her dad. When he went to Sandy’s classroom one of the kids yelled, “That’s not Sandy Claus, that’s Sandy’s dad.”
My husband was extremely involved in everything. He was truly a marvelous person. All of the kids liked him, and he made them feel very welcomed.
Other than that, we’ve always been really involved with the school and our daughters.
Last year, you attended a CCSD trustee meeting to advocate for a replacement school for J.D. Smith Middle School. What makes you want to continue advocating for children in the city?
School officials have promised for years to build a new school. I’ve watched mothers walking their kids to school, and I can see these mothers are just as caring as everyone else. These kids deserve the same opportunities as other children, but they continue to be disadvantaged in many other ways.
What do you do on your spare time?
I enjoy visiting the Sandy Searles Miller Academy for International Studies, which was named after my daughter. The kids call me Grandma Miller. We usually go once a week if Sandy isn’t doing a lot of things. Sometimes, I go by myself. I enjoy reading to the kids and meeting with teachers. The children are all so positive and very polite and well-mannered.
How does it feel to receive a proclamation from the city?
I was talking to Mayor Lee, and he said, ‘You’ve done so much for this city.’ The only thing that I’ve done is live in this house for 62 years. Our kids in those days never stayed in the house because they were busy playing outside all of the time. We never worried about letting the kids out like that. It was such a different time. Now I look at my great-grandkids, and they’re always on their computers and phones.
I did think it was so nice of him to do it, but there are so many different people down here that have worked so much harder. I’ve never done anything.
To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.
Lorena “Renee” Searles
Occupation: Community advocate
Past Job: Former stay-at-home-mom
Home State: Colorado
In North Las Vegas since: 1954