Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘I knew she would give’: How one longtime Christmas Bureau volunteer’s family carried on her legacy this year

By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Donna Roloff was a strong woman who went back to school to become a teacher in her 30s. She worked hard to transfer her love of reading to her children and her students, and that desire led her to be a dedicated volunteer at the Christmas Bureau for more than two decades.

Roloff died Nov. 29 after struggling with dementia for several years.

“I cannot remember a time when she wasn’t reading or reading to us or reading to her grandchildren,” said daughter Marilee Roloff, who was the director of Volunteers of America before retiring in 2016. The VOA handles the purchase and distribution of books for the Christmas Bureau.

Roloff, born in 1929, grew up in Harrington and married Harold Roloff in 1948. The couple lived in several small towns, including Harrington, Creston and Wilbur. She was always heavily involved in the community, her children’s schools and church groups.

As a child, Marilee Roloff remembers her mother driving her and her siblings to the Wilbur Library every week to get a fresh pile of books to browse.

Roloff went back to school in 1965, commuting 120 miles a day. “She was a very busy woman,” said daughter Terren Roloff.

She was a teacher and a librarian in Wilbur for nearly 25 years. Eventually she and her husband retired, sold the Swanson Ranch they had called home and moved to Four Lakes. Her husband died in 2002.

Roloff got involved in the Christmas Bureau because of her daughter’s work with the VOA. In the mid-1990s, the VOA used to get shipments of thousands of books in huge boxes. “Mom was always a good sport about helping to sort,” Marilee Roloff said.

After a few years, the need for more book-minded volunteers was evident. “I realized at that time that I needed volunteers to work the Christmas Bureau who knew children’s books and could work with the parents,” Marilee Roloff said.

She recruited the Alpha Nu Chapter of the Alpha Delta Kappa teacher’s sorority, of which Roloff was a member. “They came en masse and have been there ever since,” Marilee Roloff said.

Five years ago, the signs of dementia became evident, Marilee Roloff said. She was cared for by her significant other, Jerry Robinson, until it became clear that she needed to be in a memory care center.

But even as the dementia took hold, the drive to be involved in the Christmas Bureau was there. In 2017, Roloff saw an article in the paper about the Christmas Bureau. She demanded that Robinson drive her down to the fairgrounds so she could hand out books, Marilee Roloff said.

Terren Roloff said she’s only recently realized the impact her mother had on people, particularly former students. “When students didn’t quite fit the mold, she’d embrace them,” she said. “If she could rock the boat, she did.”

Roloff supported her students, helped them apply for college scholarships and even gave some of them money to help fund college. “Education was extremely important to her,” Terren Roloff said. “She knew first-hand how it could impact your life.”

Marilee Roloff said she admired her mother for her liberal views. “She was an FDR Democrat,” she said. “She believed in helping the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized all her life.”

Roloff was a supporter of the Christmas Bureau even after she could no longer help parents pick out the perfect book for each child. Marilee Roloff, who managed her affairs, sent in a donation in her name just before she died last month. “I knew she would give,” she said. “I figure she was there 25 years. That’s a long time.”


New donations of $7,570 have brought the year-to-date total to $528,741.60, nearly to the goal of $535,000 to pay for Christmas cheer for families in need in the form of grocery store vouchers and toys for children.

John and Kristianne Blake, of Spokane, donated $5,000. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $1,000.

Kevin and Judy Heid, of Spokane, sent $500. Richard and Donna Rawlings and Sherry Mazzie, of Spokane Valley, gave $500 “in memory of our parents, longtime Valley residents Milt and Grace Rawlings and Bob and Wilma Pennington.”

Pauline Bresnahan, of Spokane, donated $200, writing, “Please accept this donation: $100 in honor of the teachers and librarians who volunteer at the Christmas Bureau book table and $100 to say happy birthday to Kathy Lackie.”

John and Sindra Barber, of Spokane, gave $200. Karen Vandervert, of Spokane, gave $100 “in loving memory of Don. For all you do for so many – thank you!”

Marie English, of Spokane, gave $50. Deborah Walter sent $20.