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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Christmas tree display benefiting Spokane Symphony contains memorial for late auto dealer, philanthropist

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 30, 2018

Amid the festive forest that’s filled downtown hotel lobbies and ballrooms for the past 36 years stands one commemorative conifer with special meaning for one large Spokane family.

The family of Marlene Kay “Marti” Hollenback, the former dealer-owner of Dishman Dodge Ram Chrysler Jeep on Sprague Avenue, created a display for the Spokane Symphony’s “Christmas Tree Elegance” fundraiser that contains many of Hollenback’s favorite things. The longtime nurse, who joined her father’s dealership as general manager in 2005, died after a brief illness in spring 2017, leaving the region’s auto dealing and philanthropic communities grieving.

“Last year, when they approached us to sponsor a tree, it was still a little bit too fresh,” said Cheri Hollenback, Marti Hollenback’s sister, who led the effort to include a display honoring Marti among the 18 Christmas trees being raffled to support the symphony.

Several big-ticket items adorn the evergreens that wrap their way around the mezzanine of the historic Davenport Hotel’s lobby, with curious onlookers able to plop down a dollar for a single raffle ticket that could win them both the tree and the gifts beneath it. One tree, donated by the Belanger Charitable Fund, features a 75-inch ultra high-definition flat screen TV. Lone-Wolf Harley-Davidson donated a 2015 street motorcycle valued at $3,000. All the gifts are arranged under tinsel, holly and silver bells that take volunteers several days to assemble inside both the Davenport and River Park Square, where a half-dozen of the 18 trees up for raffle are housed.

The Hollenback display contains personal touches. The tree is adorned with hummingbird ornaments, because Marti Hollenback “always had a hummingbird feeder out,” her sister said. A professional portrait photograph of Hollenback taken by Diane Maehl sits on an easel, and the winner of the tree’s raffle will get custom business headshots taken by Maehl.

The giveaway also includes five die-cast car toys, a nod to Marti Hollenback’s own collecting.

“Every Matchbox car they made with a Dodge logo is on display in her office,” Cheri Hollenback said.

As it has for decades, the Christmas Tree Elegance show brought waves of hopeful visitors downtown Friday, the fourth day of a display that ends Dec. 8 at the Davenport and Dec. 9 at River Park Square. Raffle tickets are available for purchase for $1 apiece from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the hotel and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the mall, with lunchtime concerts led by outgoing symphony director Eckart Preu scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Donations go to the Spokane Symphony Associates, the nonprofit arm of the Spokane Symphony. The group raised $350,000 – almost all from Christmas Tree Elegance – last year for the symphony.

Meta Marshall and Georgiana Sutherlin have been visiting the tree display for more than a decade. The friends, who met through their work for the city and Spokane County assisting families of runaway children, paused Friday to marvel at the hummingbirds and the portrait of Hollenback.

“We’ve been coming for several years, and I’ve never seen a memorial tree before,” Marshall said. “I just thought that was a great idea.”

Ronda Carter moved to Spokane in 2015 and has been attending the display with her mother. She said she’d previously won a drawing for a tree called “Tech the Halls” that included a tablet and headphones.

Finding a place to put the massive tree after she won was the hardest part, Carter said.

“We had to put it in the kitchen, because it was the only place with high enough ceilings,” she said.

Ticket sales for this year’s event are already trending to top 2017’s record haul by 25 percent, said Annie Matlow, a spokeswoman for the Christmas Tree Elegance program. Demand was so high last year, the organization ran out of tickets before the raffle drawing. That won’t be the case this year, Matlow said.

“We have plenty of tickets,” she said. “We ordered 100,000 more tickets than last year.”

So far, the biggest draws have been the Harley-Davidson display and a tree that will reward the raffle winner with $4,500 in cash, Matlow said.

While donors have made monetary contributions in the name of loved ones before, Matlow said she believes this is the first time a tree has been dedicated to any one person’s memory. Cheri Hollenback said the process of picking out gifts was therapeutic for the family, remembering some of her late sister’s favorite activities, which included big family Christmases on property near the Spokane River.

“One of the things I admired about my sister, is that she was able to take a bad situation, and make lemonade out of lemons,” Cheri Hollenback said, stifling fresh tears. “And losing her so suddenly was like a lemon. This is just one way to emulate what she would have done.”

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