Las Vegas Sun

October 2, 2014

Currently: 66° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Nila Speer (1919-2007)

During her 87 years in Las Vegas, Nila Speer saw it grow from a tiny Union Pacific Railroad watering hole into an international city.

She would regale members of her family with stories from the day - such as when, as a 5-year-old, she tagged along with her dad, George Ullom. He was hauling large milk canisters from the family's dairy farm on Shadow Lane, where the Southern Nevada Health District now stands, to downtown businesses.

Speer recalled how, during one delivery, she stayed real close to her dad while they walked from dusty, unpaved Fremont Street into a saloon as sinister hombres looked up from their poker game.

Little Nila didn't give a second thought as to why a barkeep would want to buy milk. The bigger question was why were men playing poker in a local bar in 1924, seven years before gambling was legalized in Nevada?

Nila U. Speer, the matriarch of a pioneering Las Vegas family that included a city manager and three generations of gaming executives, died Monday at a Las Vegas convalescent home. She was 87.

Her family said she never fully recovered from stomach surgery in December, but her mind remained sharp to the end.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Sunday at Palm Mortuary-Eastern.

Speer was the sister of the late George Ullom, who served as Las Vegas city manager and Clark County registrar of voters, and was a founder of the Nevada Resort Association.

She was the widow of Don Speer, president of the Desert Inn and Tropicana hotels in the 1970s.

A longtime Sunday school teacher at the First Methodist Church, Speer was known for her charity and compassion for others. Never was that more evident than when she was bilked out of $10,000 at age 78.

Yet, at the 2003 federal mail fraud trial of late mortgage broker Harley L. Harmon, while other victims were calling for his head, Speer testified for him and his character.

She told the court that she had known Harmon since the day he was born and did not care that he had diverted funds from her account because she believed he was basically an honest man. Harmon nevertheless was convicted and sentenced to prison.

"That was just a tip of the iceberg of what mom was about," said Don Speer II, a San Diego gaming executive. "She was all about love. She was a spiritual person who believed in helping people who were in need.

"She was not a wealthy woman. Still she felt sorry that Harley's business did not work out and he lost it. She saw good in everybody."

Speer and her twin sister, Nola, were born in a Lovelock hospital on July 15, 1919, after their parents decided to take a day trip there to escape the triple-digit heat in Las Vegas.

As a youngster, she often accompanied her grandfather, Pop Ullom, to the voting polls and watched him as he helped count ballots. She became an ardent Democrat who campaigned for scores of candidates, including her favorite, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan.

She married Don Speer, her high school sweetheart, in the late 1930s. He died in 1979.

A homemaker, she raised money for charity through her memberships in the Mesquite Club and Beta Sigma Phi social sorority and was a director of the local Girl Scouts.

In addition to her son, Speer is survived by another son, Jerry Speer of Las Vegas; a daughter, Kristina Speer Cooper of San Francisco; a stepdaughter, Donna Kepler of Walnut Creek, Calif.; sister Nola Hanson of Oceanside, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

archive