Thalia Marie Sperry Dondero
Jan. 23, 1920 – Sept. 4, 2016
An advocate for children and education, a devoted public servant and a pioneer for women in ClarkCounty politics,Thalia Dondero died in Las Vegas on Sept. 4, 2016, due to complications from congestive heart failure. She was 96.
Elected in 1974 as the first-ever female Clark County commissioner, Thalia helped pave the way for women to serve in public of fice. She went on to serve 20 years on the county commission and 12 years on the Nevada Board of Regents with honor and distinction, while dedicating time to serve on other community boards and organizations.
Early in her career, even before running for the county commission, she had created an impressive record of community service. She served as president of the local and state PTAs, held positions as executive director of the local Girl Scouts organization, and as vice chairman of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Beautification Committee, to name a few. But these were just a hint of things to come.
A resident of Nevada for 74 years, Thalia came to Las Vegas from California in 1942 to work at Basic Magnesium Industries during the war effort. She met and would marry Harvey Dondero, a teacher at Las Vegas High School , in 1945. As they star ted raising a family, her desire to help serve her community would lead her to become a champion of public education and an advocate for children. As a mother of five, she was actively involved with Mayfair School, and was mentored by Maude Frazier, the superintendent for Las Vegas schools. Thalia credited Frazier ’s influence as prompting her to seek public
As a county commissioner, Thalia was chosen by her peers three times to serve as chairwoman of the commission during her five terms in of fice. She worked tirelessly to reduce neighborhood crime and improve the quality of local parks. As part of her responsibilities as a commissioner, she was chairwoman of the Las Vegas Valley Water District board, where she worked to ensure that adequate water resources were part of future water planning. She also played a vital role in expanding and modernizing McCarran International Airport; developing flood control projects; and in the preservation of Southern Nevada’s natural landmarks, including Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. Thalia had a particular love for Red Rock Canyon and worked for decades to protect the land from development and keep it open for families to enjoy.
Following up on her commitment to education, Thalia would go on to be elected to the Nevada System of Higher Education in 1996, as a member of the Board of Regents. She would serve two terms as chairwoman, and once as vice chairwoman, and as a member of the Cultural Diversity and Security Committee, the Student and Academic Affairs Committee, and the Health Sciences Systems Committee. In
2007, she was presented with an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas for her commitment to higher education and distinguished service to the community.
Over the years she would provide leadership to a number of other community organizations, including the Southern Nevada Public Television board of directors, the International Women’s Forum, the University Medical Center board of directors, and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada as a member of their board of trustees. She received numerous awards, including the first-ever Lifetime Community Achievement Award from the Junior League of Las Vegas; the Education Hero Award from the Public Education Foundation; and in 2010, received that year ’s Women’s Hall of Fame Pioneer Award from the Women’s Chamber Foundation.
Born Thalia Sperry in Greeley, Colorado, she is survived by her f ive children, Judy Habbeshaw of Kanab, Utah; Michael Dondero of Reno; Harvey Nicholas Dondero Jr., of Greensboro, N.C.; and Marilyn Dondero Loop and Robert Dondero, both of Las Vegas. She was preceded in death by husband, Harvey Dondero, who passed away in 1986. He had a distinguished career in education as assistant superintendent of the Clark County School District. They have 15 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life service is scheduled for this Saturday, September 10, at 2 p.m. at the Las Vegas Academy Theater at 955 E. Clark Ave., 89101. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Thalia’s name to any of these organizations: The Public Education Foundation, Thalia Dondero Scholarship; Harvey N. Dondero Elementary School; Girl Scouts of America; or Opportunity Village.
Thalia leaves behind a tremendous legacy of public service filled with style and grace. Her inspiration and influence as a role model to women in public service in Nevada will live on. But it ’s her work and dedication in serving others and her community that will continue to be felt for generations to come.