Santa's helpers brings joy to Pendleton County youth for years

This past month has been busy for everyone, but “busy” can’t begin to touch the life of Santa Claus at this time of year. The famous fellow can be seen in locations and at events across the country. He often brings himself to Pendleton County as Christmas draws near.

Because he is so busy greeting the people in the area, he could not speak to The Outlook directly, but he contacted two of his most trusted friends, Bob McClanahan and Mike McDowell, to tell his story.

Both men have known Santa for years. McClanahan met him when he was a bus driver for the school system. Northern Elementary’s PTA invited Santa to the school, and McClanahan was lucky enough to be asked to work with him. He said his experience was rather unique because when he first met Santa, he wasn’t dressed in the suit we all know and love.

Santa asked McClanahan to be his special helper in the county—making appointments and such—and he soon explained to McClanahan that Santa’s suit is a lot like business suits or work clothes for the rest of the world; he wears it when he works—Christmas Eve, and at special appearances and such. The rest of the time, he wears pretty much the same thing that the rest of us wear, only those clothes are much warmer than ours because it is much colder where he lives.

McClanahan at first wasn’t sure if he could believe this man, even if he did have white hair and a white beard, but then he said the man went into the next room, and when he came back...

“He looked like Santa!” Mcclanahan exclaimed. “It was like magic; he looked and even sounded different! And then he went into the cafeteria and led everyone in singing ‘Jingle Bells.’ I remember that day  very well.

“We were close after that first meeting. After a working a lot of Christmases with him, I got sick, and I had to bow out of helping him. We are still friends. A couple others have taken over my role as helper.”

McDowell also met Santa in the county,  but  his  friendship  with  the  elf goes back even longer—some 45 years.

“I was 17 years old,” McDowell recalled. “Santa was in the courtyard, close to where the monument stands. The Jaycees set up a tent for him there every year.

“Marvin Davis knew him first, and he introduced my older brother to Santa so that he could talk to people and arrange his visits to the area. When my brother went to college, he introduced me to Santa. Mr. McClanahan and I both helped him for a long time.”

Because of their special relationship with Santa, you can imagine the memories that these men have.

McClanahan best remembers the days that Santa would bring Mrs. Claus to the Falmouth Christmas Parade.

McClanahan best remembers the days that Santa would bring Mrs. Claus to the Falmouth Christmas Parade. “She would help Santa get ready, and then she would put on her matching outfit. They seemed to enjoy being with everyone and with each other.”

According to the men, Mrs. Claus now often stays behind to help with the Christmas rush. Technology needs have added responsibilities to the elves, and Mrs. Claus is more than willing to help them through tight deadlines to be sure that all toys and games are ready to load in Santa’s sleigh for his Christmas Eve travels.

The men aren’t the only ones who remember how Santa has visited the county or the areas around it. Santa remembers, too, and as Santa and they talk through the year, they talk about some of his favorite memories of the area.

McClanahan shared that Santa remembers Rich Jaffe from Local12 attended the Falmouth Christmas Parade several years ago, and Jaffe sat on his lap.  “Santa enjoys when even the adults sit on his lap. Some people think adults look silly there.”

McClanahan grinned, remembering the scene, but then he got a thoughtful look about him. He said, “But Santa wants even adults to sit on his lap because no one is too old for Santa.”

McDowell agreed. “I have gotten to go to see older people in nursing homes with Santa. I have seen those people pull on him and want to talk to him as much as the children do. A lady in one nursing home even took his hand and when he turned to look at her, she asked, ‘Can I walk with you, Santa?’

“He said, ‘Of course you can!’

“She said, ‘I remember walking with you a long time ago when I was little.’”

Santa remembered, too. He remembers all the children.

McDowell knew this already; he and Santa talked about the children he had met through the years on more than one occasion, but when he worked at Griffin Industries, he found found out something new about the old saint.

One day, McDowell met a younger man, a new employee,  whose name was familiar to him. When he got home that night, he called Santa to ask him if he had possibly talked about the fellow. Santa immediately sent McDowell a Christmas list that had the man’s name on it, and he told McDowell that he was sure he was the same man who had given him the list when he was a little boy.

McDowell took the list to work with him the next day and handed it to the man. When McDowell explained how he had come to have it, the man exclaimed, “Mike, this was from 15 or 20 years ago! Santa had this all this time?!”

McDowell explained that Santa keeps all the lists, letters, and pictures he has ever received. More impressive is that Santa can tell anyone when and where pictures with him were taken and even which children now have children of their own—but after all, he IS Santa.

McClanahan and McDowell both say that Santa has many requests to join him in his work when he visits, and he selects some temporary help on occasion, especially from children. Little ones who help sometimes feel their ears are changing into elf ears, posrsibly because they have been around his magic at such a young age. Neither of the men have had that experience.

While Santa loves to belt out jolly “Ho ho hos,” Santa and his friends can’t talk about his time in the Pendleton County  and Northern Kentucky area without thinking about some of the hard stories, too.

McClanahan recalled a woman in the area who  asked him for a coat. “She was cold,” he remembered her saying, “and she couldn’t afford a coat on her own. I could see Santa’s eyes welling up. So many ask for things they want, and he saw how badly she needed a coat and more—things that even he could not give her. He pulled himself together, though, and made her happy to be there for a bit.”

McDowell shared his own tough memory. “A little boy came to Santa when he was at Kmart in Cold Spring years ago. He didn’t want anything except a toy truck. Some kids want all the new things they see, but he just wanted a truck.

“When he left Santa’s lap, he got a gift certificate. He used part of it to buy his truck instead of waiting for Santa to bring it, but then he used the rest of the money to buy socks and underwear—things he needed.”

Santa doesn’t just get requests for toys and clothes. Sometimes, even he can’t give what a child wants most.

Again, McDowell remembered. “I was with Santa when a little girl looked him in the eye and said, ‘Santa, my daddy doesn’t love me.’
“I happened to overhear her say it, and I wondered how he would respond. He looked straight at that little girl and said, ‘That is not your fault.’

“She told Santa that her daddy hadn’t seen her for a while, and he knew her daddy likely wouldn’t see her for a good while longer. Before she left, she told him what she wanted for Christmas. ‘I want to see my daddy.’”

Santa sees stories like these often. “So many times,” McDowell shared, “while some kids have that twinkle of joy in their eyes and their lists in their hands, other kids just want their families to be together.”

Despite the hard stories, both of these men worked with Santa as they worked full-time jobs. Being Santa’s schedulers in the county took time they really didn’t have then, and even now  the retired McDowell finds himself quite busy keeping up during the Christmas season.

When you ask them why they do it when they have so many concerns of their own, they both answer similarly, and anyone who knows either of them can likely answer for them.

“I love people,” McDowell explained. “Being with Santa is fun. I love hearing kids ask Santa about the reindeer and the things at the North Pole. It’s even more fun when they ask what he really knows about them, like what their beds look like or how he gets into their houses.”

Santa has a special key, McDowell shares, and he has seen it.

McDowell also chuckles when Santa has a little dirt on a child. “Their eyes get bigger and bigger as he tells them what they are doing wrong,” he laughs. “Santa tells me that he usually doesn’t see the child do those bad things again!

“But the biggest reason I love being Santa’s helper, I guess you could say, is that for about 45 days a year I get to be a total kid, and no one will deprive me of that. One of the greatest things is to see people smile, to see them happy.”