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Doug Clark: Spokane Donut Parade founder Darrell Jones dies at 87

He never ran for political office, never was a mover or a shaker.

So the passing of Darrell Jones, whose bad lungs got the best of him Monday, will go with modest notice.

He was 87.

Yet if anyone deserves some extra praise and recognition it’s this man.

For nearly 40 years Darrell made Spokane a happier place to live and he did it one fresh maple bar at a time.

Until his retirement in 2008, Darrell and wife, Kathy, ran the Donut Parade, that beloved North Hamilton Street landmark to sweet doughy goodness.

They founded the place in 1968. Kathy took orders and tirelessly worked the counters and tables. In the back kitchen Darrell hauled flour sacks and cranked out his homemade donuts and maple bars, batch after batch after batch.

“Every walk of life came in here,” said son, Bill, 54, one of four Jones children. “We had Ph.D.s and guys who barely got out of eighth grade. But they all had something to offer.”

Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley made the Donut Parade a routine campaign stop during his Congressional election years.

Ex-NBA star John Stockton would stop by to load a few carbs. The place has been a hangout for former college and school district administrators, city workers and more than a few cops.

Bill and I took a booth early Wednesday morning.

Darrell liked to joke that there was retro by design and retro by deterioration. The Donut Parade definitely fits into that latter camp.

The floor in front of the counter is grooved from the pressure of an untold number of customer feet. The fixtures are old and funky. The signage is archaic.

And the clientele cherishes every frayed bit of it.

Plus the donuts and maple bars are yummy as ever, thanks to Roy and Christian Reno. The couple bought the shop from Darrell and Kathy seven years ago and wisely left the recipes alone.

“I started coming here in 1982,” said Ike Bailey, a Donut Parade loyalist who dropped by our booth to express his condolences.

“My kids came in here. My grandkids come in here now.”

What better way to remember Darrell than with a coffee and a maple bar in his honor?

“This place was Cheers before Cheers was ever heard of,” said Bill. “We had 200 regulars a day. You could set your watch by when they’d show up.”

Bill said he came in early once to find several customers filling sugar containers and taking out the garbage.

“He was the most important unimportant guy ever,” said Bill of his dad. “He gave it all back. He spent nothing on himself. He never took a vacation.”

The son of a bootlegger, Darrell grew up in abject poverty in Mooresville, North Carolina. Then, like a lot of young men, Darrell’s life changed with World War II. He served in the 11th Airborne Division and became part of the U.S. occupation force in Japan.

Darrell worked various jobs, but his experiences in a few donut shops struck him as a great way to be his own boss.

So with $900 in savings and a load of used donut-making equipment, Darrell moved his family from Northern California to Spokane and took the plunge.

Running a donut shop is not for anyone who places a high value on leisure time.

The Donut Parade grind began at 3 a.m. “Dad and mom would get over here and work until 1 or 2 p.m.,” said Bill. “Then mom would have to ramrod three daughters and a son.”

The couple worked six days a week for 16 years before cutting back to five days a week.

“The job, this place,” said Bill, “it wore him out.”

Not long before Darrell’s retirement, Bill attempted to calculate how many maple bars his father had made.

A typical day produced 75 dozen of the fluffy wonders.

“It was a real math problem,” said Bill, adding that the answer he came up with “was in the millions.”

Darrell was as much a Donut Parade attraction as his pastries. Though he never had formal education, he read everything, had firm political opinions and a razor wit.

“You didn’t want to debate him,” noted Bill.

Yet Darrell was also a big softy, a guy who loved people and often fed the neighborhood poor who couldn’t afford his already ridiculously priced 10-cent coffee or donuts he sold for 69 cents a dozen.

Back in the cigarette days, being inside the Donut Parade was like being stuck inside a smog bank. But when Darrell developed breathing difficulties in the mid-1980s, his customers stopped smoking out of respect for their friend.

After a major asthma attack, Darrell was diagnosed with a wheat allergy, a dire condition for a baker. He kept on, however, wearing a mask on days he felt the worst.

In the early days, the place was often filled with guys who talked about the B-17s they flew. They traded wisecracks with Darrell and found a friend.

“You told him your name once and he remembered it for life,” said Bill, who credits his mom with being the determined force that held it all together.

After news of Darrell’s death spread, the Donut Parade Facebook page began filling up with posts expressing sympathy and love.

“Thanks Darrell. Best donut guy in Spokane,” wrote a fan. “My families have the best memories of going to the Donut Parade. God bless your dear family.”

“Darrell was one of the good guys!” wrote another. “I went to the Donut Parade as a child and 40 years later when I took my own kids. He remembered me, and my grandmother, and had stories to share. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

The maple bars arrived. We took our first bites.

Man, these dough gods are heavenly.

“I’ve eaten a couple of these in my life,” said Bill with a laugh, explaining that he was “the janitor here six nights a week during my entire childhood, the lowest-paid janitor in the history of Spokane.”

Memories and maple bars are staples at the one-of-a-kind Donut Parade.

“This was his joy,” said the son. “It was his clubhouse. He loved the place. Absolutely loved it!”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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