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Lake Oswego resident Leo Conkle pledges $25k in support of restoration efforts to Notre Dame Cathedral

REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES - Leo Conkle poses in front of an art installation paying tribute to deceased Marys Wood residents where his wife Maria has a leaf with her name etched on it.

Leo Conkle remembers the first time he laid eyes on the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was 1980, and he and his late wife Maria were travelling through Europe with their two sons, Brian and Bruce, and his sister.

"I was awestruck," Conkle said. "I wouldn't say I have a spiritual connection, necessarily, it's just so beautiful, and there's so much history there. It's in a class of its own."

The 89-year-old resident of Mary's Woods in Lake Oswego says his memories of the French Gothic church stand as a reminder of the feeling it gave him whenever he would visit Paris with family.

So when he saw the cathedral burning on the television April 15, he was hit by a wave of sadness and grief over the destruction that the fire brought to the site beloved by him and so many others.

"Sadness and horror, actually, watching it burn. Then I saw the steeple fall. It was an emotional moment," Conkle said. "I just felt like something had to be done."

The following day, Conkle went to the philanthropy department at Mary's Woods retirement community where he made a pledge to match any donation to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral of up to $25,000.

"It's just something I wanted to do, and my family is supportive. I only hope I get a good response," he said.

According to Conkle, his family moved to Oregon in 1937 when he was seven. He was the youngest of eight children, of which he's the only one left. They lived in Toledo near the Oregon Coast for a year before moving to Portland where he's been ever since.

His family being devout Catholics, he remembers serving as an altar boy at the chapel housed at Mary's Woods back in 1945. To say he has a deep connection to the community where he now resides would be an understatement.

"I love it here, it's a good place to be," Conkle said. "People are all so friendly and supportive."

For much of his life, Conkle worked in bakeries. First a few small bakeries, then for Wonder Bread for 25 years, and a short stint with Safeway bakery. He finished his career working for the post office before retiring.

After living in West Linn for many years, Conkle and his wife Maria moved into Mary's Woods back in February of 2017. Later that year, Maria passed away on her 85th birthday.

Maria being Swiss-born, the couple travelled to Europe on occasion, and visited Notre Dame Cathedral a few times. That tradition was passed down to their sons; Brian, his wife and mother-in-law were actually in Paris the week before the fire visiting Conkle's granddaughter Madison who's currently studying abroad from NYU.

"They were just sending me pictures of the cathedral the week before the fire," he said.

Conkle hasn't talked to many of his fellow residents at Mary's Woods about his pledged donation. He's trying to keep things "low key," as he puts it, but the few community members who have heard about it reacted with the utmost gratitude towards his generosity.

"We have to do what we can," he said.

Outside of his pledge to donate to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral, Conkle is also a longtime supporter of the Portland Opera where and his wife used to volunteer for many years. He and Maria also chaperoned the ski bus up to Mt. Hood Meadows for 43 years.

He's currently helping to spearhead an initiative to bring a new healing garden to Mary's Woods.

According to several media reports, the Catholic Church has received around $1 billion in donations so far, but there is no exact estimate of how much it will take to restore the church completely.

Conkle says he's just happy to be able to contribute to helping rebuild such a significant cultural and historic site.

According to Mary's Woods Director of Philanthropy, they've received just under $1,500 in donations as of Tuesday.

"We've received gifts from $15 on up to several hundred dollars," Rees said. "Every donation will help us maximize the match."

Anyone interested in making donations for Conkle to match can give at www.MarysWoods.org by following the prompts at either the "Home" or "Donate" pages. Gifts must be received by May 30 to be included in the lump sum with Conkle's donation.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Sam Stites at 503-479-2375 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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