Saturday, Sept. 23, 2000 | 3:31 a.m.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.
IT WAS A good night for public education.
Saturday night the Clark County Public Education Foundation gave a very warm and teary-eyed tribute to the Sun's publisher, Barbara Greenspun, and her family. A family, I might add, to which I am happy to belong.
It was a warm tribute because of the outpouring of love and sincerity from friends and well-wishers who overfilled the Four Seasons Hotel for the Fourth Annual Educational Hero Award Dinner. It was teary-eyed because that's just the way my family responds when our mother gets what she deserves.
What Barbara deserves for a half-century of involvement and participation at every level of this community's life is exactly what she got Saturday night. What the Public Education Foundation got in return was a full house of people connected with and committed to the betterment of our public school education in Southern Nevada.
There are dozens of dinners held during the year for a myriad of worthy causes. Each one picks an honoree who understands that his or her name is being used to raise the needed dollars and necessary public awareness that is essential for the organization to continue its work in the community. To choose any one of these causes over another is to do an injustice to each of them.
But when we talk about the need in our community and our country to find the ways and means to make our public schools the places, once again, for learning and understanding that they were meant to be, then we are talking about the very essence of the future of America.
Whatever we may or may not do with private and sectarian schools in this country, the greatest opportunity for successful and happy lives for the greatest number of our citizens will always come from our public schools. Making sure that the next generation will have the same or greater opportunities that the last one had is the challenge that each of us face.
Somewhere along the way we have lost track of the reasons why Thomas Jefferson insisted on public schooling and somewhere down the road we will recapture that intent. One way we will do that in Clark County is through the work of the public-private efforts of the foundation.
With Gov. Kenny Guinn and former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan as honorary chairpersons, there was little doubt that the evening would be a success. Sig Rogich, Erin Kenny and Ann Lynch, along with dozens of volunteers and a dinner committee more than willing to add its financial resources to the effort, made certain that Barbara Greenspun's night would be one for the record books.
I have never had a problem singing the praises of my mom and dad. This time though, that job is better left to a man who has known them both since the very early days. Mike O'Callaghan contributed the following words to the evening, which more than sum up the role my parents played at the beginning of Las Vegas' growth and what their family has continued to play as Las Vegas takes its place among the great cities of America.
Our family is grateful for Mike's words, which follow:
"The generosity of Barbara Greenspun and her family to young people and education is well known to Southern Nevadans. This generosity has benefitted students and teachers from kindergarten through UNLV and out into the neighborhoods. Educational seminars, lectures, forums, programs and buildings with the Greenspun name on them are all an important part of our local culture.
"Residents of Clark County, who have lived here for 40 or 50 years, know that the Greenspun interest in education has a broad foundation which goes back several decades. It was Sun founder and publisher Hank Greenspun who used his "Where I Stand" column and editorial pages to promote the education of our children and meet the needs of teachers.
"In May 1953 only Las Vegas High School served the city and the Sands Hotel was the star of the Strip. On the evening Tallulah Bankhead made her first nightclub appearance, the high school held graduation exercises on its football field. Hank attended the graduation and the next day wrote:
'The dazzling first-night crowd at the Sands for Tallulah's opening was more than matched by the hundreds of fathers, mothers and friends who crowded Butcher Memorial Field for the Thirty-Ninth Annual Commencement Exercises of Las Vegas High School.'
"Time and again it was Hank who went to the well of public opinion to gain support for school bond issues. In 1963 a state senator opposed funding for kindergartens and referred to them as a 'glorified baby-sitting setup.' After taking the hide off of the errant legislator, Hank suggested that a 1 percent increase of gaming taxes might be a very good idea. This suggestion, of course, didn't make many of his newspaper's advertisers happy.
"This fervor for education came from Hank's heart, as did his sorrow when a child was killed by a van the first day of school in 1979. He loved children and knew that education was of great value to them and society. His interest in young people made him a good listener and a man who seldom lectured them.
"Yes, Barbara Greenspun and her family have been a vital force in our community, building and expanding on the foundation laid by her husband and their father. Barbara's good heart and strong leadership have made Southern Nevada a better place to live and educate our children."