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Education, Politics, Nonprofit - Dondero Did It All

Marilyn Dondero

Thalia Dondero, the first woman elected to the powerful Clark County Commission governing the Las Vegas area, has died.

She was 96.

The Clark County Coroner's office on Monday confirmed that the longtime Las Vegas leader and one-time commission chairwoman died Sunday of heart failure.

In March, KNPR's State of Nevada talked to Dondero about her career in public service in Southern Nevada. 

If you ask Thalia Dondero what all she's done in her career, you had better settle in. In fact, it might be easier to ask what she hasn't done in her life. 

Dondero moved to Las Vegas with her husband, Harvey, in 1943. The two were both active in education - locally and statewide. And when a seat opened up on the Clark County Board of Commissioners, Dondero said she thought she would "give it a try." And in 1974 became the first female commissioner of Clark County, a seat she would occupy for the next 20 years. 

During that time, projects with her name on it included the expansion of McCarran Airport, and ensuring Red Rock Conservation Area became protected lands. 

At 96, her resume includes hundreds of bulleted points for civic and professional affiliations. And that list is still growing, as her community involvement continues.

In honor of Women's History Month, Dondero joins KNPR from her home in the valley. 

On being the only woman working on some community issues and projects during the 40s and 50s:

“I know! But I just did it, you know. I thought it was important for the community and especially for my children because my children were in girl scouts and boy scouts. And we just did things then.

On the changes in Clark County schools:

The parents were there to help and I don’t see that anymore because everybody is working of course. We all really helped and paid attention to what was going on in schools. Even in high schools, we were there.

On running for the Clark County Commission:

I had been active in my area. And I just thought it was important because look at the things you’re over. You’ve got everything in the world as a county commission and you work with the city councils. I thought it was really an interesting job. So I decided to give it a try. So I did! And it wasn’t easy.

On what made it difficult:

As the first woman, you’ve got all these men to work with and it isn’t easy. They wanted me to take minutes and that sort of stuff. And I said ‘No I have the same vote as you have.’

On being on the board for McCarran International Airport:

And at that time… McCarran was a very small airport and so, we wanted to make it so the biggest airplane in the world could land there and that was the Concord.

And so, look at it today! I think how smart we were to have that enlargement of the runway and the airport itself, which is look at the traffic it has now.

On working in Las Vegas when so much of it was run by the Mob:

I was good friends with Moe Dalitz! You meet all those people and you have to work with them because they’re part of the community.

On what she is doing now:

I’m serving on the new national park committee for the Ice Age animal bones park. The land was just given to us by the Bureau of Land Management. So we’re working as a committee to get that started. So, we’ll have museum and all of that development.

On her proudest moment:

I think I’m most proud of the fact that I originally elected to be on the board of county commissioners and then to serve on the PTA national board. I look back at my work with the school district and with my children and school and I think that was really important.” 

(Editor's note: This interview originally aired in March 2016)

Thalia Dondero, former Clark County Commissioner, first female ever elected to the board 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.