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

Bear battle: Spokane Valley City Council at odds over location of grizzly sculpture

Artist Jerry McKellar stands next to Huckleberry Daze, a large bronze bear statue he sold at-cost to the Spokane Valley Arts Council.  (COURTESY OF GAYLE MCKELLAR)

The statue isn’t controversial.

It’s 5 feet, 5 inches of heavy bronze grizzly sitting placidly on its haunches. The Spokane Valley Arts Council donated it to the city. Everyone seems to like it.

But the question of where the bear statue should live prompted multiple, lengthy debates among members of a divided Spokane Valley City Council.

On Tuesday, the debate ended when City Council voted 4-3 to put Huckleberry Daze in Greenacres Park near Riverbend Elementary School.

The argument centered around one fundamental question: Should Huckleberry Daze be in a place where little kids can play on it, or does it belong at Central Valley High, given the school’s mascot is a bear and a group of students lobbied to bring the statue to campus?

Council members Pam Haley, Arne Woodard, Rod Higgins and Laura Padden – who make up City Council’s more conservative majority – wanted to see Huckleberry Daze in a park.

Haley, Woodard and Higgins all emphasized that Huckleberry Daze’s sculptor wanted the statue in a place where children could enjoy it.

Woodard said giving the statue to Central Valley would be unfair since the city doesn’t have pieces of art to give to other high schools. Haley noted that Huckleberry Daze, which is approximately 750 pounds of bronze, would be an expensive sculpture to give to a school.

Council members Ben Wick, Brandi Peetz and Tim Hattenburg said they felt Central Valley would be the best home for Huckleberry Daze.

Wick, an East Valley High School knight, said he didn’t think giving the statue to Central Valley would be unfair. He said if Huckleberry Daze was a titan instead of a bear, it’d belong at University High School.

Putting Huckleberry Daze at Central Valley would make the bear visible to lots of people, Wick said. He also argued Greenacres Park would be a thematically awkward home for the grizzly.

“Greenacres Park is a themed barnyard,” Wick said. “It’s got Ferdinand the bull. The playground is a barn, it’s a farm animal theme.”

Sarthak Shrestha, associated student body vice president at Central Valley, gave a passionate speech at Tuesday’s meeting in an effort to bring the statue to his school.

“I know deep in my heart the true respect that this bear deserves would not be at a park, it would be at Central Valley High School,” the 16-year-old Shrestha said.

Shrestha and 10 or so other Central Valley students attended a City Council meeting last year as part of one of their classes.

After the meeting, the students talked with council members, hoping to get involved with a community project. They learned about Huckleberry Daze and expressed an interest in having the statue at Central Valley, Peetz said. Shrestha emailed City Council before their Feb. 15 meeting, making a case for why the bear belonged at his school.

Rob Rowe, who teaches American government and politics at Central Valley, said during Tuesday’s council meeting that bringing the bear to campus could be a great experience for his students.

“Just think, in the years to come they could walk by that sculpture with their parents, their grandparents, their friends and, even more importantly, perhaps some day their own kids, and say, ‘I was a part of that process of placing that bear. I got involved in the process,’ ” Rowe said.

Rowe noted that his students would also learn a valuable lesson if the bear didn’t end up at Central Valley. The “important thing is they got involved, they did their part,” he said.

During their Feb. 15 meeting, it looked like City Council was leaning toward putting Huckleberry Daze at Central Valley. It was a preliminary discussion, but all seven council members said they’d be fine with placing the statue at the high school. Higgins and Woodard did note that the original idea was to put Huckleberry Daze in a park.

On Tuesday, Shrestha said he didn’t appreciate the apparent reversal.

“I thought that local representatives were different,” he said. “I thought they truly cared about what was right, but to me, right now, seeing the change of heart does not seem right.”

Woodard said that his mind never changed throughout the discussion. Haley told the students she was sorry if they’d been given the impression the bear was coming to Central Valley.

Before City Council voted, Peetz said she was impressed to see kids participating in local government. For their effort alone, Huckleberry Daze belongs at Central Valley, she said.

“People do want youth to get involved, but when they do a lot of the times they don’t listen,” Peetz told the students. “For that reason, I’m with you, I would like it to be at CV or near CV.”

Multiple council members, on both sides of the Huckleberry Daze debate, said they sincerely appreciated the high schoolers taking part in government.

“I hope you guys stay involved,” Haley said. “But just because somebody wants (Huckleberry Daze), doesn’t make it right.”

Gayle McKellar, who’s married to Huckleberry Daze sculptor Jerry McKellar, said it’s true that her husband wanted Huckleberry Daze to go somewhere kids could enjoy it and play with it. But the McKellars emphasized they wouldn’t have been opposed to the bear going to a high school.

Jerry McKellar sold Huckleberry Daze to the Spokane Valley Arts Council at-cost, but he didn’t place any restrictions on how the city could use it.

The Colville artist said he didn’t want to add to any controversy surrounding his sculpture’s placement. He said he’d have supported City Council no matter where they placed Huckleberry Daze.

“I’m just happy that people will enjoy it and like to see it.”