The Thalia Dondero Political Papers (1934-2003), contain correspondence, pamphlets and reports used by Dondero to conduct official business, as well as information on county and city budgets, social and health services, liquor and gaming, planning, public works, environmental impact reports and a large section on water management. Dondero served as a Clark County Commissioner for twenty years and engaged in numerous other civic and political activities. The bulk of the materials are derived from Dondero's last four years in office, 1990-1994, but a few items from Dondero's earlier career are included.
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Scope and Contents Note
The Thalia Dondero Political Papers (1934-2003) center mostly on her last four years as a Clark County Commissioner, 1990-1994, and the majority of the documents cover Clark County, Nevada. It does, however, include some documents from her early career. Included are correspondence, pamphlets and reports used by Dondero to conduct official business. There is information on county and city budgets, social and health services, liquor and gaming, planning, public works and a large section on water management. There are several United States Department of Interior impact statements on topics that include the Caliente Wilderness Area, Battle Mountain, Nevada (Esmeralda-Southern Nye Counties) and Lake Mead Recreational Areas as well as several statements completed by the Federal Highway Administration. The few donated photographs are retained with the corresponding subject matter.
This collection is open for research.
Materials in this collection may be protected by copyrights and other rights. See Reproductions and Use on the UNLV Special Collections website for more information about reproductions and permissions to publish.
The papers are organized into three series:
Series 1. Clark County, Nevada Papers, 1959-1997;
Series 2. Federal Papers, 1966-1994;
Series 3. Nevada State Papers, 1934-2003
Material is arranged in alphabetical order.
Biographical / Historical Note
Clark County, Nevada Commissioner and political activist Thalia Marie Sperry was born in Greely, Colorado on January 23, 1921. In 1930, Dondero, her parents, Sylvia and Doyle Sperry and three siblings relocated to Bakersfield, California where Dondero attended high school and later junior college as an art major. She came to Nevada in 1942 when her Bakersfield employer, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was hired by the federal government to conduct inventories of surplus federal properties in the Las Vegas-Henderson area. After BMI, she worked in the bookkeeping department of Modern Cleaners that was located only blocks from where she had lived in a 7th Street boarding house. There she met fellow boarder and Las Vegas High School teacher, Harvey Dondero. They were married after his discharge from military service in 1946. From 1946 to 1948 they lived in Carson City, Nevada and San Francisco, California where Harvey served as a field representative of the U.S. Office of Education. In 1948 they returned to the Mayfield area of Las Vegas, Nevada with their first child, Judy, and Harvey resumed his career as an educator in the Las Vegas Union School District. From 1948 to 1952 he served as principal in North Las Vegas schools until he was transferred to the central office as Assistant Superintendent, a position he kept during the formation of the Clark County School District in 1956 up to his retirement in 1984. The Donderos had four more children, Michael, Harvey Jr., Marilyn, and Robert. Harvey Dondero died in August 1986 at the age of 76.
Thalia Dondero became involved in community work when her friend, Marjorie Phillips, introduced her to the Service League (later the Junior League) for which she would later serve as president. Dondero's first major volunteer project, however, was her work for the Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) at Mayfield Grade School. Her greatest mentor during these early years was Maude Frazier. While driving the educator to and from PTA meetings, Dondero learned of the early history of Las Vegas. When Dondero contemplated running for a higher office within the organization, Frazier suggested that her husband's prominence in the education community should not stop her from seeking those positions in the PTA that she believed herself qualified to fill. In a March 1976 oral history interview done by University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) student Mary Germain, Dondero recalls Frazier encouraging her, saying, "Now you just go right ahead and seek that job and do it!" Dondero went on to hold several offices including PTA president at the local, county, and state levels and to perform duties as the state organization's Treasurer and Regional Vice-President.
In the same oral history interview, Dondero states that the main reason she got involved in community action and later politics was her natural curiosity in finding out how to develop and then carry out a civic project. She credits the ten years she was involved as Executive Director of the Las Vegas Girls Scouts and her role as the first chairperson of the Fantasy Park community project as wetting her appetite for politics and "sharp[ening] her political skills in reaching workable, viable compromises."
Next Dondero was appointed to the Nevada State Parks Commission where she became known as the “Tree Lady” because of her work to expand state owned recreational areas for public use. “I do love Nevada,” Dondero said, “It’s a state that grows on you.” She assisted in drafting and getting passed a $9 million bond issue that allowed the Parks Commission to add land in the Valley of Fire and Lake Tahoe recreational areas to its land acquisitions portfolio. Because of Dondero’s love and knowledge of Nevada’s natural beauty and her work on the commission, she was asked by the
Based on her growing knowledge of coalition building and a record of almost twenty-five years of community involvement, Dondero ran in the early 1970s for a vacated 9th District Assembly seat. Although she lost, Dondero learned important lessons about the tough and tumble character of local politics but most importantly, how to campaign. She jumped back into politics in 1974 and won a four-year term as County Commissioner for District D. As the first women elected to that office, she credits women like Flora Dungan for creating visibility on the local political scene and establishing precedence with her unsuccessful bids for high public office. Although elected to a four year term, Dondero and the other commissioners were required to run again for office in 1976 after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Clark County election districts were unconstitutional. Not only did Dondero win the election and receive more votes than any other elected official in Clark County up to that time, the Commission’s Democratic majority elected her its first female Chair.
In an editorial that appeared in the Valley Times on 3 January 1977, Dondero was described as a woman of “integrity” and “respected by most of the press because she level[ed] with them. The plain fact is, it’s hard to attack her politically,” giving her “an advantage that no other County Commission chairman has ever enjoyed.” Dondero believed that to be a good commissioner you needed to continually get out and speak with your constituents, believing “you can’t really operate unless you know what the public’s thinking.” This became the hallmark of her political career. “I have always been willing to work hard for what I believe in,” she was quoted as saying in a 1972 Review Journal article, and gave “time and effort to the best interest of the public.” Dondero served continuously on the Commission until 1994 when she lost to Myrna Williams.
Dondero’s political and community involvement and accomplishments are considerable. She has been an advocate for the homeless appearing before a 1985 US Senate sub-committee requesting that the federal deficit not be reduced at the expense of the poor, sick, and elderly. In another appearance before the US Senate, Dondero asked the Energy Research and Development sub-committee to reconsider its decision to ship low-level contaminated soils through Clark County and its decision to use Yucca Mountain as its designated contaminated waste repository. Dondero’s advocacy work has also included finding additional funding for children’s educational programs, higher salaries for teachers, and providing beds in shelters for Clark County’s homeless population. Her duties as a county commissioner have helped oversee the tremendous growth that has occurred in Clark County in recent years and included oversight of the McCarran Airport expansion, flood control projects, and water conservation programs. Dondero is a founding member of the Secret Witness Program and a former member of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Police Commission and has led the battle against drug and alcohol abuse in the Las Vegas community.
Other political appointments and community activities have included membership on the Nevada State Energy Reserve Advisory Board; Nevada State Utilization Board; the Nevada Development Authority and Chairman of its Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee; State Commission on Aging, the Equal Economic Opportunities Board; the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Board, the National Public Lands Advisory Board, the Clark County Health District, United Way and Chairman of its Emergency Shelter Board; Regional Planning Board; Western Regional Intergovernmental Commission; Director, National Associations of Counties; Chairman of the Las Vegas Valley Water District Board; the Nuclear Waste Commission; Liquor and Gaming Board; Clark County Airport Authority; Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Fiscal Affairs Commission, Chairman, Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Senior Citizens Advisory Board.
Dondero has received numerous honors over the years. She is a Life Member of both the Girl Scouts and the Parent Teachers Association and an honorary member of the Teachers Association. She represented Nevada at McCall Magazine’s Better Living Institute (Chicago, Illinois) and was made Woman of the Year in 1988 by the Nevada Dance Theatre for her continuing support.
Dondero is a founding member of the Nevada Women’s Archives Advisory Board and a supporter of the UNLV oral history program. She was also a Regent of the University and Community Colleges of the State of Nevada.
Thalia Dondero Political Papers, 1934-2003. MS-00345. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Materials were donated in 1994 and 2014 by the office of Thalia Dondero; accession numbers 94-48 and 2014-061.
Collection was processed by Gerry Evans in 1999. In 2014, as part of a legacy finding aid conversion project, Karla Irwin revised and enhanced the collection description to bring it into compliance with current professional standards. In 2017 Joyce Moore completed and uploaded the finding aid.