This valley along the Santa Cruz River, with the Santa Ritas to the east and the Serritas to the west, appeared to be the ideal location for the Maxon brothers, along with their partners Lee Chilcote and Charley French, to build a retirement community. By the end of 1963, they had built 1000 apartments along La Cañada as well as a recreation center (now East Center), a medical center and the first buildings of a mall, (now Green Valley Village).
A small group of community leaders, chaired by the local wrangler, Budd Stout, and including Tebone Hohler, looking for a way to promote good fellowship and provide a means for residents to get better acquainted, organized a country fair to be held in October 1964.
Enter the White Elephant! To offset some of the expense of the fair, 16 women, chaired by Lee Raney, decided to hold a White Elephant sale at the recreation center. As oft repeated, this sale was considered a success with $146.20 in profit.
In succeeding years the White Elephant sale continued to grow both in money raised and in items donated for the event. In the 1970’s, two apartments were made available to price and store things that were then transported to the recreation center during the fair. Sometimes there were as many as 1000 people waiting in line for the annual sale to open.
In 1980, 16 years after the first White Elephant sale, the Country Fair Board leased land from Pima County in the Government Center to build a store to be open year-round. Don Davis was president of the Country Fair Board that year. Don and his wife, Alice, are familiar names to our older volunteers.
The 3000 square foot building was ready for business in June of 1981. The White Elephant was open every day from 10:00 – 12:00. Jere Hunter was the General Manager assisted by Dorothy Clifton, LaVera Diercks and Maryann Morrison. There were an additional 20 volunteers; many working 20-25 hours weekly. During the fair, merchandise was again transported to East Center for the White Elephant sale.
In 1990, the Country Fair Board became the Country Fair White Elephant Board. This board would be responsible for the store and parade; the malls would assume responsibility for the balance of the fair.
The first building was remodeled and expanded five times until the White Elephant now occupies 34,400 square feet. It has gone green with a dedicated recycling program; solar panels on the roof supply electricity for the building. The White Elephant donates hundreds of boxes of useable, but not salable, merchandise to various organizations every month and sells items on both eBay and craigslist.
The 16 volunteers who held the first sale has grown to approximately 636 with paid staff consisting of a General Manager, a Manager of Facilities, an Office Coordinator and a Custodian. The store hours are now Monday through Saturday from 9:00 – noon. The 1964 sales were $146.20. Today, after expenses, it is estimated that approximately $30,000,000 has been distributed to worthy organizations, non profits, and schools in this area. Many young people have gone on to successful careers after earning an education with scholarship from the Hollace G. Roberts Educational Foundation, Inc. (HGR) that is funded by the White Elephant. In 2016 the Board changed the name to the Country Fair White Elephant Scholarship Foundation to properly reflect the White Elephant’s contribution.
In addition to the tangible benefits the White Elephant provides to this community, it is an avenue for volunteers (mostly senior citizens), to make new friends, have fun and use still valuable skills. Another unanticipated benefit – some customers report a daily visit to the White Elephant is the primary source of their social life.
Imagine the astonishment of those 1964 Green Valley pioneers upon seeing the White Elephant today and a retirement community of nearly 30,000 nestled between the mountains along the Santa Cruz River.