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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Penelope the White Elephant rides again at the Christmas Bureau

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The long connection between the former White Elephant stores and the Christmas Bureau was cemented Tuesday when the Conley family donated one of their iconic white elephants to the Bureau.

John R. Conley Sr. founded the White Elephant in 1946 to sell war surplus materials. The store soon added outdoor recreation supplies and toys. Penelope the elephant, an amusement ride that cost 10 cents to run, sat outside the Spokane Valley White Elephant store on East Sprague Avenue. Isidore, her brother, was outside the other White Elephant store on North Division Street.

Throughout many of those years, White Elephant toy buyer Bill Kuch also bought all the toys for the Christmas Bureau. It was a double-duty he did for 29 years.

“We had a pretty good connection,” said Mary Conley, John Conley’s widow.

The White Elephant stores closed in 2020 after 74 years in business. Isidore was donated to the city of Spokane and is at the Looff Carrousel in Riverfront Park. Until now, Penelope did not have a new home.

No one is quite sure where Penelope came from. It’s possible she came from Natatorium Park like Isadore did, but no one is quite sure. But she still works, offering rides to kids willing to climb into her red saddle.

Penelope now has a place of honor at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, where she will sit, bucket of dimes at the ready, while the Christmas Bureau is open. She’s sitting in front of banners that use to hang from the White Elephant store.

“Children will be able to ride it,” said Christmas Bureau coordinator Heidi Meany.

The Conley family has agreed to bring Penelope to the fairgrounds for the Christmas Bureau every year so she can continue to bring joy to children.

“The family will store her,” Meany said. “We didn’t want her to get damaged.”

Conley said she’s grateful that people still have fond memories of her husband’s stores and the white elephants that greeted children there for decades. “It’s very nice and exciting,” she said.

As she watched three of her daughters fuss around Penelope to get her set up, she had one wish: “I wish your dad was here.”

White Elephant memorabilia, hats and stickers are being sold at several locations in Spokane, with proceeds going to the Christmas Bureau. They are available at PNW Dream in Riverpark Square, Paint in My Hair on Monroe, Atticus Coffee and Gifts downtown, Over the Moon Relics on Garland and the Looff Carrousel gift shop in Riverfront Park.


The pace of new donations has increased, with $19,735 coming in to bring the year-to-date total to $115,820.18.

Sara Weaver-Lundberg donated $5,000 via PayPal.

Nancy Jean Evans donated $2,500. Donald and Janet Hart, of Spokane, sent $1,000. Patrick and Cheryl Pritchard, of Spokane, gave $1,000 “in loving memory of Holly Fry.” Francis Goodman sent $1,000 via PayPal, writing “May everyone have a Merry Christmas.”

Fred Potts, of Spokane Valley, gave $600 “in memory of my wife Norrine.”

Steven and Lorrie McNutt, of Spokane, gave $500. Dick and Trudy Raymond, of Spokane, contributed $500. “Thanks to all the volunteers who help so many children and families to have a happy Christmas,” they wrote. “We pray for God’s blessings for our community, country, and the world.”

Richard and Angela Young, of Spokane, gave $500 “in memory of Ken Trent, who had a major role in establishing the Christmas Bureau. Thanks for what you do.” An anonymous Cheney donor gave $500, writing “Thank you for passing on the Christmas spirit.” Karen and Stephen Darling, of Spokane, gave $500. Tina Webster sent $500 via PayPal.

Debra Prouty donated $300 via PayPal.

John and Alexis Chasse, of Spokane, gave $250. “Hope this helps a little bit,” they wrote. “Thanks for doing this every year.”

The Neal and JoAnn Skaufel family donated $205. A $200 donation came from “Cliff and Carol, who worked the Christmas Bureau for many years.” Zoe Foltz, of Spokane, donated $200. Jo Anne Granger, of Colbert, sent $200. Jill Barville gave $200 via PayPal.

Susanne Tuson and Marty Beresford, of Colbert, contributed $200. “Thank you to all the volunteers and organizations that come together to bring a little joy and happiness to the people who need it at Christmas,” they wrote. The Medley family, of Liberty Lake, sent $200. Sandy Bumgardner and Luella Jobin, of Spokane, gave $200. The Assistants of Spokane donated $200.

An anonymous retired newspaper employee donated $185.

An anonymous donor gave $150. Lane Klees, of Spokane, contributed $150.

Naomi Franklin, of Spokane, donated $125. Gary and Judy Spangelo, of Cheney, sent $125. Amy Lutz contributed $125 via PayPal.

Joan Menzies, of Spokane, sent $100. Gayle Fox, of Spokane, gave $100. Emily Noland, of Spokane, donated $100, writing “Hope this helps.” Charles and Sharon Preston, of Nine Mile Falls, contributed $100, as did Lee and Julie Fish of Spokane.

Carolyn Takeuchi, of Spokane, donated $100. “Love that this goes toward helping people have a Merry Christmas!” she wrote. An anonymous Spokane donor contributed $100. Janine and Pat Maggart, of Spokane, gave $100. Linda Faire and Carmen Ward, of Spokane Valley, sent $100.

Willbann and Virginia Terpening, of Spokane, donated $100. “Thank you for all you do,” they wrote. Delores Rodgers, of Spokane, gave $100. An anonymous donor gave $100 via PayPal, as did Thomas Hempel, Ellen Imsland, Janet Monaco and Elizabeth Justice. An anonymous donor sent $100 via PayPal “in honor of my wonderful friend, Susie.”

Amy Cannata gave $100 via PayPal “in memory of my Grandma Iolanda Cannata, a loyal reader for decades and in honor of my son, Sammy. My Christmas wish is that all children enjoy the magic of the holidays!”

Addy Hatch donated $100 via PayPal “in loving memory of Tim.”

Anne Frank gave $85.

Susan and Spencer Shaw, of Spokane, gave $50. Gary Fiscus, of Liberty Lake, sent $50. The Evers and Bonjouklian families, of Spokane, donated $50, writing “Thank you for what you do for the kids.” The Quackenbush family, of Spokane, contributed $50.

Evelyn and David Graves, of Medical Lake, donated $50. Barbara Larson, of Spokane, gave $50 “in memory of my husand, Jeff Larsen, and his parents, Beth and Graham Larsen, and my parents, Tyrne and Jules Rometch. I wish a peaceful season and 2023 to all.”

Sherryl Niska, of Spokane, donated $30. Teresa Alderman gave $30 via PayPal, as did Deborah Carpenter. Mary Kay Divalentino, of Nine Mile Falls, sent $25. An anonymous Spokane donor sent $20, writing “Here is my annual small contribution. Every bit helps!”

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