Las Vegas Sun

April 15, 2024

Pioneer Jewish leader Gordon dies at 89

On V-J Day in 1945, things were really hopping at Mike's Liquors at 106 Fremont St.

Mike and Sallie Gordon bustled about to keep up with customer demands for champagne, beer, wine, hard liquor -- anything to toast the end of World War II. By day's end, not a drop of alcohol was left on the shelves.

When folks gathered Tuesday at Palm Mortuary to bid a final goodbye to Sallie, they remembered her as a go-getter whose boundless energy spawned several successful Southern Nevada businesses and helped build the Jewish community into a viable force in the development of Las Vegas.

Sallie Julia Gordon, a 65-year Las Vegas resident who was considered to be the town's longest residing Jewish woman, died of heart failure Sunday at Columbia Sunrise Hospital. She was 89.

"Sallie was the motor in the (family's) truck," said Alene Hepler, a cousin and a 50-year Las Vegas resident. "She was very active in a number of things, including temple, and she was sharp as a tack."

A 90th birthday tribute was planned for Sallie later this month at the Las Vegas Hilton. Federal, state and city officials were to present Gordon with proclamations in honor of her contributions to Southern Nevada.

Indeed, Sallie saw and experienced a lot.

She co-owned Mike's Liquors with her husband, who died five years ago, and later owned Sallie's Liquors. She also owned a large family-operated grocery store in the Williams Shopping Center in North Las Vegas.

Sallie and Mike were among the founders of Temple Beth Sholom. She was the first president of the B'nai B'rith Ladies Organization and the second president of the Temple Beth Sholom Sisterhood.

Sallie was a staunch liberal Democrat who worked on numerous campaigns, making friends with political figures from U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran, D-Nev., to modern-day office-holders like U.S. Sens. Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, both D-Nev., both of whom she knew as boys growing up locally.

"She was very opinionated, and we had a lot of spirited discussions about politics," said Rachel Maggal, a local pianist and friend. "I am a conservative Democrat who has, at times, supported Republicans. Sallie didn't like that one bit -- and she was not afraid to let me know it."

Alex Kane, Sallie's son-in-law of 28 years, remembered her as "tenacious, focused and a good listener." And he recalled she also was a good sport.

In the eulogy, Kane said he and his wife Bobbie, Sallie's only child, took Sallie to the mountains earlier this year. She agreed to pose for a photo on skis, appearing as though she were skiing down a mountain at top speed.

"The photo was taken no more than six feet from a garage," Kane said, pointing to the photograph near Sallie's plain wooden casket as mourners chuckled. "We put rocks on her skis to prevent her from sliding away."

Sallie, an Ohio native, came to Las Vegas in 1932 at the urging of her aunt, Kitty Weiner, mother of late prominent local attorney Louis Weiner Jr.

At the time, Las Vegas had a population of less than 5,400, and gambling had been legalized just a year earlier. Sallie often boasted that she had never partaken in casino gambling. Also, when she moved here, most of the roads in town -- and leading to town -- were made of gravel.

Only 20 Jewish families resided in Las Vegas in the early 1930s. In 1932, Sallie give birth to what has long been believed to be the first Jewish child born in Las Vegas. That, however, cannot be independently confirmed.

Sallie's father, A.J. Schur, had come to Las Vegas in the late 1920s, and went on to become a pioneer consultant to the city's earliest businesses.

Sallie's husband early on was a postman who would become Clark County Secretary of the Democratic Central Committee and a member of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

For a while, Sallie worked at Ethel's Liquors at 28 Fremont St., before she and Mike opened Mike's Liquors in the early 1940s. They operated the store until the 1950s.

She later opened Sallie's Liquors at 2200 E. Charleston Blvd. Sallie sold the business in the early 1970s. But the new owners, capitalizing on her stellar reputation, kept her name on the place for several years.

During World War II, Sallie was hostess for Las Vegas' USO activities. Often she would invite Jewish servicemen to her home for dinner and Friday night observation of the sabbath.

Well into her 70s, Sallie worked at gift shops in resorts like the Sahara and the old Hacienda.

She enjoyed traveling, visiting far-away lands like New Zealand just last year. And she loved spending time with her family.

"Mot-her was one-in-a-million," said Bobbie Gordon Kane, a former longtime Las Vegan and a longtime resident of Honolulu. "She encouraged friends and family to act like they are friends."

In last Friday's edition of the Las Vegas Israelite, a twice-monthly Jewish community tabloid, a front-page story and photo heralded Sallie's upcoming 90th birthday bash. However, she died two days later, never having seen the article.

In addition to her daughter, Sallie is survived by a sister, Kathryn Samuels of Las Vegas; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Other noted relatives include State Sen. Valerie Weiner and former UNLV basketball standout H. Waldman, both cousins.

DONATIONS: To the Sallie Gordon Educational Fund, 715 Montvilla St., Las Vegas, NV 89123.