Donna Andress was raised in Searchlight and lived there until 1932 when she and her grandmother mother moved into "town". Her mother, Clarabelle was a teacher at the old Grammer School and then when Las Vegas High School was built, was hired to teach there.
The Las Vegas of 1932 was a very different city than the one we imagine. Everything centered around Fremont Street. Donna and her mother lived in the Blakely Apartments. All the shopping for clothes, groceries and entertainment was on Fremont Street in those days. The El Portal and the Palace were the two theaters in town that folks frequented. For fun, Donna and her friends would go to the old Las Vegas Sweet Shoppe and go swimming either at the old Ranch or the Mermaid Swimming Pool at Fifth and Fremont.
Boulder (Hoover) Dam was under construction and men from all over the country were pouring into Las Vegas hoping to get work on the engineering marvel of its day. For every man hired, there were 10 men who had applied. Donna remembers the "Hooverville" and the families that were living in cardboard boxes, old cars and tents.
"Very few people - - no families that I knew really had cars. Um, my mother got one I think a ’36 Ford in about 1940. And I remember I was so thrilled. Because of course I had learned to drive when I was nine. My cousin Bill Douglas taught me, and he taught me in a model T Ford that had the spark on the steering wheel. "
"I had two pairs of shoes, when I was a little girl, one was for school and one was for dress. But I went barefooted most of the time anyway and my feet were as hard as concrete. And um, so it was - - we - - in the wintertime, when it snowed we wore gunny sacking wrapped around our feet, to, to keep the wet off of our shoes. But everybody was in the same boat, so if we were poor we sure didn’t know it, and we never lacked for food to eat. My grandmother made all my clothes clear through high school."
Donna went to school at the old Grammer School and then went on to Las Vegas High. Her high school sweetheart, Gail Andress, and another couple Jimmy Cashman, Jr and Mary Carmichael were all inseparable. They were at an air show at Sky Haven Airport (now the North Las Vegas Airport) on Dec. 7th, 1941 when an announcement came over the loudspeakers for all airmen to return immediately to their base. No one was quite sure what had happened but the exodus from the air field was pandemonium. Later that day, they found out that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
When America went to War, Las Vegas was like every other community in the country. Rationing, victory gardens, war bond tours and rubber drives were all the order of the day.
"All of our photos in the annual (yearbook) were group photos because printing was rationed, ink was rationed, paper was rationed, everything was rationed."
Donna graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1943 and a year later, married Gail Andress. Gail dropped out of his last year at the High School to join the Navy and Donna became a war bride.
After the War, they returned to Las Vegas. Gail went back into the family car dealership. A few years later he started his own construction business.
Donna and Gail had two children who both grew up and continue to live in Las Vegas.
Today, Donna and Gail live in Nelson, the small community in El Dorado Canyon. They are still young at heart, are about to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary and are two of my favorite people.