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All I want for Christmas is ... an elephant?

Created date

November 26th, 2013

Almost 45 years ago, Nancy Oliphant purchased an elephant decanter as a gift for her husband John. I thought it would be a fun gift in honor of our last name, a derivative of the word elephant, she says. Little did I know, that purchase would be the beginning of a very large collection. Since that time, the couple has amassed a collection of more than 800 elephants, from coffee mugs to teapots to tables and mirrors. We ve received much of our collection as gifts, says John. Just when we think we ve seen everything, we find something new.

Elephants on the move

In early 2012, John and Nancy began thinking about moving themselves and their elephant collection from their large house in Sedona, Ariz., to a continuing care retirement community. We received a mailing fromAshby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., and thought, Hey, that s near our son Mark, says John. We asked him to check out the campus for us. He thought it was beautiful. So we went online, looked at the floor plans, and chose the one we wanted. That was in April. We visited in May and were in our new home on July 1, 2012. Moving across country is nothing new to the Oliphants and their elephants. While serving in the U.S. Air Force, John and his family moved throughout the country from as far west as Alaska to as far east as Massachusetts. Deciding to move to Ashby Ponds was an easy decision to make, says Nancy. We immediately fell in love with the community and enjoy being so close to our son Mark and his family.

Downsizing the herd

While preparing for their move to Ashby Ponds, the couple knew it was time to downsize their enormous collection. I belonged to a Republican women s organization and asked them if they would like a donation of elephants, says Nancy. It was fun to give the elephants away. Many were used as door prizes and as part of various fundraisers. Among the donations was a six-foot Christmas tree with more than 140 elephant ornaments. But we made sure to keep some elephant Christmas decorations for ourselves, including an elephant nutcracker, elephant ornaments, and a sled pulled by an elephant, says John. We arrived at Ashby Ponds with only 225 elephants, including a stuffed elephant that our son received when he was born and the Dumbo elephant watch my granddaughters gave me as a gift years ago, says Nancy. It didn t take us too long, however, to receive new elephant additions to our collection, says John. Our neighbors, upon learning about our collection, have been very generous.

Settling in

John and Nancy welcome their Ashby Ponds neighbors to view their collection, displayed in their new home. We ve been incredibly fortunate to meet many wonderful new friends, says Nancy. Almost everyone on our floor moved in around the same time. We get together monthly for happy hour and invite each other into our homes. We can count on each other for anything. It s very special. The couple recently lent 37 of their favorite elephant tchotchkes to the monthly window display at the Cardinal Clubhouse. It was a fun way to let people know a little more about us, says John. Now people will approach us and say, Oh yeah! You re the elephant people!

Protecting their namesake

In addition to having fun with their namesake, John and Nancy feel a responsibility to the animal that, since 1986, has been listed as endangered by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). We watch every documentary and read every book we can find, says John. This past August, in honor of World Elephant Day, John and Nancy posted facts about elephants outside their apartment home in the hopes that those who passed by would learn about this important animal. Last year, I read the book The Elephant Whisperer about legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony, who rehabilitated elephants in Africa, says Nancy. Upon his death, herds of elephants across Africa came to mourn his passing. The elephant is really a remarkable animal, says John. We witnessed in a documentary a mother elephant shed tears at the death of her baby.

Sharing with friends

This holiday, John and Nancy will undoubtedly receive a few more elephants to add to their collection. Some of our favorite gifts are elephants, says Nancy. Many come from our granddaughters. And each year, John creates a beautiful elephant-themed Christmas card. I make a point to copy or print interesting photos I find, he says. I use those to make the cards. I used to be able to buy elephant cards, but lately I have fun doing the work myself. And the cards, just like the elephant collection, bring joy not only to John and Nancy but also to their friends and family. It s still funny to me how it all started, says Nancy. But I m so glad that it did. We are having a lot of fun!