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Lorna Kesterson, Henderson’s first female mayor, dies at 86

Family, friends remember former leader as community-minded woman

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Courtesy Kesterson Family

Lorna Kesterson, mayor of Henderson from 1985-1993, passed away Jan. 16. She was 86 years old.

Lorna Kesterson, a former Henderson reporter and editor who later served on the city’s council before being elected its first female mayor, died early Monday at the age of 86.

Kesterson collapsed in her doctor’s office during a routine check-up, said her 27-year-old granddaughter Corissa Kesterson.

“It was very unexpected,” Corissa Kesterson said.

The cause of Kesterson’s death has not been determined.

“My grandmother is an amazing lady,” Corissa Kesterson said. “She had an incredible sense of humor, loved to joke around and was very witty. She had a strong sense of politics and was very strong willed.”

Kesterson was born Dec. 30, 1925, in St. George, Utah, and grew up in Springdale, Utah.

In the 1930s, her family moved to a ranch in Boulder City. She and her sisters were known around the town as the "Boulder City Babes," acknowledged for their good looks and talent.

Kesterson finished high school in Boulder City before heading off to college at Utah State University, where she graduated with a degree in journalism.

She then served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving mainly in New York and Philadelphia.

Kesterson’s political career started in 1975 when she was nominated to the Henderson City Council. She was re-elected in 1977 and served until 1981.

“She was always out there working,” said Thalia Dondero, a former Board of Regents member for the Nevada System of Higher Education.

“One of those really straight-forward people; you always knew where she stood on an issue,” said Dondero, who remembers working with Kesterson on the Clark County Board of Health in the 1980s.

In 1985, Kesterson became the first woman elected mayor of Henderson and was re-elected in 1989.

“She was mayor during one of the most accelerated growths of Henderson,” said son Roger Kesterson.

She was mayor until 1993, during a time when Henderson was booming, said Colleen Bell, a retired city clerk.

“She worked with everyone to make Henderson the premier city it is,” Bell said. “She was a great mayor.”

But Kesterson’s career didn’t start in the political arena. She wrote for the Henderson Home News for 30 years, working her way up from reporter to managing editor. Kesterson would also sell articles to papers such as the Las Vegas Sun and the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News.

Kesterson's role in the community has always been one of service.

“We did a lot of things in the Nevada League of Cities,” said Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, who was a North Las Vegas City Council member during the time Kesterson was on the Henderson City Council. “She seemed very dedicated to the job. She lived and breathed Henderson.”

During her life, Kesterson was a member of several boards, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Henderson Development Association and the Nevada League of Cities Board of Directors.

Among her many achievements, she was named Woman of the Year in 1975; in 1985, she was named Henderson Woman of Distinction; and in 1991, she was Nevada Public Official of the Year.

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman presented her with a Certification of Merit from the Red Cross for saving the life of a California Boy Scout drowning in Lake Mead.

Kesterson, the mother of four boys, also had a school dedicated in her name in February 2001. A Henderson recreational center was also dedicated in her honor.

“She will be very much missed,” Bell said. “It’s really Henderson’s loss.”

She is survived by her brother, Donal Jolley of Rimforest, Calif.; sister Venus Marriages of Carson City; sons Don (Jean) Kesterson of Henderson and Roger (JoAnn) Kesterson of Mountain View, Wyo.; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Kesterson was preceded in death by her parents, Donal and Nora Jolley, husband Robert Kesterson, and sons Ross Kesterson and Jim Kesterson.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

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