Search Results for: santa claus school

Group wants to name Route 31 in Albion for Charles W. Howard, founder of Santa Claus School

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 July 2019 at 10:13 am

This photo shows Charles W. Howard with a Santa at Christmas Park in Albion. Howard operated the Park and a school for Santa Claus in Albion until his death on May 1, 1966.

ALBION – A group that has been doing projects in Albion to honor the life of Charles W. Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus School, wants to name Route 31 in Albion in honor of Howard.

The Albion Betterment Committee would like there to be signs at each end of Route 31 in the Town of Albion, declaring that section to be in honor of Howard, who established the school in 1937 and ran it until his death in 1966. The school was located at the corner of Phipps Road and Route 31. (The school has been moved to Midland, Michigan, and still bears Charles Howard’s name.)

The Orleans County Legislature on Wednesday will vote whether to support the effort. The Legislature has a resolution on the agenda for the 4:30 meeting, which is in the new addition of the County Administration Building.

The resolution states:

“WHEREAS, Mr. Charles W. Howard was a resident of the Town of Albion for his entire life; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Howard was proud of his home town, county and country; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Howard brought national acclaim to himself and his home town by establishing the world’s first Santa Claus School; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Howard portrayed Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for 18 years;

WHEREAS, Mr. Howard passed away in 1966 without receiving from his local neighbors the proper recognition he deserved; and

WHEREAS, the Albion Betterment Committee (a not-for-profit charitable organization which was formed in 2003 with the intent to promote the area’s natural assets and to set the area apart from every other community in the country) is asking support to dedicate a portion of the NYS Route 31 in Memory of Charles W. Howard; now bet it

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Albion Betterment Committee had this sign honoring Charles Howard erected in 2015. It is on Route 98, on property owned by Gil and Donna Wolcott, north of Route 31A.

RESOLVED, that the Orleans County Legislature supports the Albion Betterment Committee in their request from the State of New York to have a portion of State Route 31 – when entering the Town of Albion (Northwest corner of Transit Road from the east to Southeast corner of Wood Road from the west) to be dedicated in Charles W. Howard’s name; and be it


The Betterment Committee in recent years has put up a “Believe” in downtown Albion, replaced the Santa Claus School sign at Howard’s property (now owned by Robin and Jill Stinson), and erected a welcome sign on Route 98 that declares Albion is the home of Howard, founder of the Santa Claus School. That sign includes a cutout of Howard’s likeness in a Santa suit.

The Betterment Committee has also raised more than $30,000 for a monument in downtown Albion for Howard. The group also has been a regular participant in the Strawberry Festival Parade with a Santa and Mrs. Claus waving to the crowd.

This wouldn’t be the first time in Orleans County a state road was named in honor of people. Route 98 in Genesee and Orleans counties in 2014 was named the Genesee and Orleans Veterans Memorial Highway. A brown sign with white letters was unveiled on May 22, 2014. That sign is by the Orleans County Marine Park in Point Breeze. Click here to see photos of the sign unveiling.

The state also approved naming Route 104 in Orleans County as the “American Legion Memorial Highway in Orleans County.”

The Albion Rotary Club last year worked with artist Stacey Kirby to have a 24-foot-long mural of Charles Howard as Santa in a sleigh over downtown Albion.

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New sign notes Albion as home of Santa Claus School

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – A new sign was put up today on Route 98 across from the Don Davis car dealership that notes Albion is the home of Charles W. Howard and a Santa Claus School that still bears his name.

After Howard’s death in 1966, the school moved to Michigan. Howard remains a revered figure in the Santa Claus community for his efforts to establish standards for Santa’s wardrobe and interaction with the public.

The top photo shows Michael Neidert (right), an Albion Highway Department motor equipment operator, and Clarence Winkelmann, a volunteer with the Albion Betterment Committee.

The Betterment Committee worked with the Lonowood Art Company in Albion to create the sign.

The display will include a life-size cutout of Howard. That image will be added soon.

The sign is located on the property of Gil and Donna Wolcott.

Here is a vintage photo of Howard by the sign for his Santa School on Phipps Road near Route 31 in Albion. The new sign tries to replicate some of the detail on top of the sign.

Founder of Santa Claus School also was a farmer

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 18 April 2015 at 12:00 am

ALBION – This photograph shows Charles W. Howard playing an unusual role; that of the secretary of the Orleans County Fair Association.

Taken sometime in the late 1910s, Charlie is shown standing on the race track of the old county fairgrounds in Albion. A number of men are lined up in the background, sitting atop the fence.

Born and raised at the family homestead on the corner of Route 31 and Gaines Basin Road, his earliest years were spent partaking in household chores and working the family farm. He was active in local agricultural societies and the Orleans County Fair Association for many years.

In 1926 Howard suffered injuries to his legs after falling from the top of a silo, 20 feet to the cement ground. After taking the plunge, he was rushed to the local hospital where it was discovered that he had broken his leg and broken bones in the other foot.

Around 10 years later, he suffered another fall, this time from atop a loaded hay wagon. After resting for four days, he returned to work performing his usual farm jobs. It was nearly three weeks later that he traveled to Rochester for x-rays, only to have the doctor exclaim, “My gosh, man, you’ve got a broken neck!” His neck was placed in a cast and he quickly returned to laboring on his farm.

Both injuries would have a lasting physical effect on Charlie. Despite this, he still went on to establish his famed Santa Claus School in 1937, operate his beloved Christmas Park, and enjoy the distinction of being one of the most adored men in the world. Howard has been an inspiration for many; a man of love, charity, and kindness – a true local legend.

Lots of national media attention in 1964 for Santa School in Albion

Posted 18 December 2023 at 10:42 am

Reporters from Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, UPI, Australian Press, nearby newspapers sat in on sessions

Graduating students from Albion’s Santa Claus School serenade their “Dean” Charles W. Howard and his “First Assistant” Mrs. Ruth Howard, the seated couple at the center of this Medina Daily Journal-Register photograph, October 20, 1964.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 3, No. 39

ALBION – This jolly group was assembled at a dinner held at the Apple Grove Inn, Medina on October 16, 1964, to celebrate their graduation from the Charles Howard Santa Claus School and to honor the school’s founder, Charles W. Howard and his wife, Ruth Howard.

Enrollment at the school, which was then in its 28th year of educating department store Santas, was limited to 20. Students from the Class of 1964 hailed from Detroit, Bay City, Michigan, and New York state. In many cases, stores paid the tuition, as they recognized that a graduate of the school was an asset.

Students received a well-grounded training in the philosophy and practice of portraying Santa Claus with integrity during their intensive week-long course. They also learned how to interact with children. Grade schoolchildren from Albion, under the direction of Mrs. Ruth Karns, interacted with the Santa trainees, while students from Medina, Albion and Holley participated in round table discussions.

The fine points of attire were also addressed, while Mrs. Ruth Hazard demonstrated gift wrapping and Mrs. Joy Merkel instructed Santas in the latest dance steps.

The school had elicited much publicity that year. Reporters from the Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, United Press International, area newspapers and even the Australian Press sat in on classes and reported on activities.

This celebratory dinner was held shortly before the Howards’ trip to Australia.

On October 25, 1964, the same week as the Journal-Register article, The Sydney Morning Herald of New South Wales, Australia, featured an article promoting their prospective visit. Farmers, a department store in the city, sought six candidates to train as Father Christmas. The store’s fashion coordinator said that the store was flying in “Santa Claus himself,” Mr. Charles Howard, from New York, to supervise the school, the first of its kind in Sydney.

A later article in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 10, 1964, featured an interview with Mrs. Howard, appropriately attributed as “director and instructor-in-chief at the Santa Claus School, Christmas Park, Albion, New York.”

The article continued: “Mrs. Howard is accompanying her husband on a Santa Claus inspection and briefing tour of Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney.”

A November article later that month in a Melbourne publication, The Age, described Howard as “principal of the only finishing school for Santas in the world.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Mr. Howard’s death in May 1966.

Medina Memorial hosts first visit with Santa at hospital since Covid

Photos by Ginny Kropf: (Left) Chris Walczak, nurse’s aide in the surgery department, gets a hug from the Grinch during Medina Memorial Hospital’s afternoon with Santa on Wednesday. (Right) Destiny Miller, a certified nursing assistant at Medina Memorial Hospital, helps Aric and Addie Fox scoop up bags of reindeer food to take home and scatter on their lawn on Christmas Eve.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 7 December 2023 at 8:39 am

MEDINA – Orleans Community Health on Wednesday afternoon hosted its first holiday event with Santa and Mrs. Claus since Covid hit in 2020.

Children were informed of the event through notes sent to their schools. For many years, the event took place in the morning on a weekend and included breakfast, as well as crafts and a visit with Santa.

This year, according to Kristin Grose, human resources manager, the event featured cookies with Santa, crafts, cookie decorating and making reindeer food. The reindeer food consisted of oatmeal and cereals which children could scoop into plastic bags to take home and scatter on their lawns for Santa’s reindeer on Christmas Eve.

Isabella Gray, daughter of Medina Memorial Hospital’s director of nursing Kim Gray, greets children who attended an afternoon with Santa and Mrs. Claus on Wednesday. Here, Isabella gives a bag of goodies to Emma-Lee Noone, 6, whose grandmother Bobbi Huwyler brought her to see Santa.

Bobbi Huwyler brought her granddaughter, Emma-Lee Noone, 6, who, like all the children, got a bag of goodies to take home, including candy canes. Santa and Mrs. Claus sat in the hospital lobby, where children could get their picture taken and share what they wanted for Christmas.

Isabella Gray, 17, volunteered to help greet children to satisfy her community service hours for school.

“My mom brought me here to this event when I was 3,” she said.

She may be nearly grown up now, but 17-year-old Isabella Gray still likes to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Isabella remembers when her mother brought her to the hospital to see Santa when she was 3 years old.

Isabella’s mom, Kim Gray, is director of nursing at the hospital.

Valerie Kujawa of Medina brought her son Micah, 6, and their cousins Aric, 8, and Addie Fox, 6.  She said she had previously brought Micah to the event when he was 3 and it included breakfast with Santa.

Not only do the children get to interact with Santa, but hospital staff say it is a good way to show children that hospital’s aren’t a scary place, in case they ever have to come there for treatment.

From left, Aric Fox, 8, Micah Kujawa, 6, and Addie Fox, 6, all of Medina, make Christmas ornaments at a Santa event Wednesday afternoon at Medina Memorial.

Kendall lights community tree in a celebration with Santa

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 December 2023 at 9:39 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

KENDALL – Santa and Mrs. Claus led a tree-lighting celebration this evening at the Community Park Gazebo.

After the tree-lighting, the community was invited to the elementary school across the street for hot chocolate, cookies and a concert by the Kendall Community Band.

Santa and Mrs. Claus bore a resemblance to Kendall Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata and his wife, Sharon.

Three Kendall junior-senior high students and their teacher sang Christmas songs at the tree-lighting. Teacher Rebekah Scharf joined students Adrianna Schiavone, Lucas Jones and Karter May in singing “O Christmas Tree,” “Tidings of Comfort and Joy” and “Dashing Through the Snow.”

Kendall band students Maddie Hults and Marlie Clark also were joined by their teacher Meghan Pitarresi in performing some holiday classics.

Lori Cyr directs the Kendall Community Band in a concert at the elementary school.

Mrs. Claus hands out crayons and a Christmas coloring book.

Several of the Kendall Community Band wore Santa hats while playing Christmas music.

Dale Smalley, a retired Albion band teacher, plays the trombone in the community band.

Plaque added to bronze statue of Santa in downtown Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 November 2023 at 9:10 am

Group has ideas to build on Santa theme for Albion

Photo by Tom Rivers

ALBION – A plaque has been added next to the bronze statue of a Santa Claus in downtown Albion at Waterman Park. (This photo makes it look bigger than reality. It doesn’t quite go waist high.)

The statue was dedicated during the Strawberry Festival on June 10. It was created by sculptor Brian Porter.

The project was led by the Albion Betterment Committee as a tribute to the late Charles Howard, who ran a Santa School in Albion beginning in 1937. He remains revered by the Santa community for helping to shape the look of Santa and how people should act while interacting with children.

The group wanted a plaque to provide a snapshot of Howard’s life and impact.

This photo shows Charles W. Howard with a Santa at Christmas Park in Albion. Howard operated the Park and a school for Santa Claus in Albion until his death on May 1, 1966.

The plaque reads:

CHARLES W. HOWARD (1896-1966)

“Charles W. Howard first portrayed Santa as a boy in a classroom play. As an adult he played Santa in a  store front window in downtown Albion and then, Rochester and Buffalo. This experience encouraged him to perfect the role of Santa Claus.

“Charles was disheartened by the quality of Santa being portrayed in stores. He created a ‘school’ to teach the proper appearance and demeanor of Santa. He established the world’s first Santa Claus School in the fall of 1937. His school became so popular that it was eventually recognized world-wide.

“Charles converted his farm in Albion into Christmas Park with a Christmas and Santa theme. The park provided Santa’s Castle where he trained Santas in the off-season.

“He became the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa and retained that distinction for 18 years – until his death in 1966.

“One of Charles’s most famous quotes was ‘He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. He enters through the heart.’

Albion Lions Club member

Santa Claus Hall of Fame Charter Member – December, 2010”

Other community members are trying to build on the Santa theme. Lori Laine put a post on Facebook and wrote a letter to the editor, encouraging people to attend a meeting on Monday evening to brainstorm Santa ideas.

The group has four projects for now, including a lighted holiday parade on Dec. 9.

“We need lots of  floats, cars, wagons, golf carts all lit up!” Laine posted today on Facebook. “Don’t have a vehicle to light up? We can have marchers this year!”

Susan Oschmann is coordinating the effort and has applications for participants.

“The more the merrier, let’s light up the night!” Laine said.

The group also would like to adopt a light pole with Christmas decorations. Maureen Bennett is the person to reach out to for more information.

Laine also would like to see a tour of the churches in the historic Courthouse Square. “Many folks have never see the inner beauty of these historic churches,” she said.

The group also is planning weekly Christmas caroling in the community in an effort headed up by Karen Conn, an Albion music teacher and owner of a real estate business.

Some other ideas to promote the Christmas spirit: a 5K Santa run, sledding at Bullard Park with hot cocoa, and a “Santa Shanty” for people to meet Santa.

The group will next meet at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Hoag Library to discuss the projects.

These ideas would help Albion to better embrace Santa heritage

Posted 21 October 2023 at 8:16 pm


Is it too early to think about Christmas? Oh no it isn’t, especially if we’re going to do something exciting in our Village of Albion then we have to start thinking about it now. Actually we are late!

So let’s get going! We have a beautiful Santa statue. Let’s build around the concept that Albion is the original home of the Santa school! Christmas should be the time we showcase our little village! Here are some ideas.

We should build a little shed down by that Santa just like the one in Medina but more like a little school house. If it works there and can work here too it would be a great place for a little mailbox to send letters to Santa. The little park all decorated up would look fantastic! We could even hold a little fun contests there like a “Ho, Ho, Ho” contest, best beard competition, Santa costume parade! How fun is that!

With our beautiful, historical Courthouse Square, it would be a beautiful place to put Christmas trees to honor loved ones or if you don’t want to do that because everyone else does it (even though it is a success, and I will travel to Lyndonville and Middleport to see theirs) maybe we could do wreaths of all sizes and decorate them in the Square.

Christmas caroling! What is more fun on a winter’s evening then Christmas caroling with hot chocolate and friends! We could do it once a week at the Square and groups could break off and walk down the side streets caroling – different organizations can supply the hot chocolate!

Movies … a month of Christmas movies, hosted at churches, different businesses that can accommodate, the library, the schools, Elks Lodge, any of the beautiful party venues we have.

Beg the Santas to come back! It’s probably too late for this year, but wouldn’t it be great to have them here next year? We had so much fun when they were here!

Do the Christmas decorations and contests for homes and businesses, but have people post their gorgeous pictures, and perhaps an online map of the decorations for folks to check out. Then have judges go around and pick winners in different categories, popular vote really doesn’t work, secret judges would be great!

Adopt a pole! (pun intended, North Pole county) all the beautiful light posts could be decorated with Christmas trees, Santas, angels … you get it , anything Christmas! The poles could be judged for winners, too! The prizes do not have to be monetary. It could be a dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Claus….. a winter wonderland sleigh ride, something like that would be fun for the whole family!

Did you see the big beautiful Santa at the Browsery? Check him out.

Lori Laine


Cobblestone Museum hosting program on Sept. 23 about Santa School founder in Albion

(Left) This is the cover of a 44-page booklet about Charles W. Howard that was compiled by an Albion middle school students in 2021. The booklet will be available for sale on Sept. 23 during a program by Ken McPherson. (Right – Photo by Tom Rivers) Ken McPherson, a graduate of the Charles W. Howard Santa School, meets Weston Burgio of Albion on Dec. 2, 2019 at Hoag Library in Albion.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 16 September 2023 at 8:32 am

CHILDS – The Cobblestone Museum will celebrate the life and legend of Charles W. Howard with a special program by Ken McPherson of Medina, a friend of the Howard family and a graduate of Howard’s Santa Claus School.

The program on “Charlie Howard, the Santa Claus School and Christmas Park” will take place at 1 p.m. Sept. 23 at the historic Cobblestone Church on Route 104.

McPherson said he was “roped in” to being Santa by Dave Green when he was dating Green’s daughter Lisa.

“I stopped at their house one day when Dave was getting dressed to be Santa at the Millville Church,” McPherson said. “I was a junior in high school then. The more I learned about Charlie Howard, the more interested I got.”

In 1981 McPherson bought his first Santa suit from Elizabeth Babcock of Albion. Babcock lived just down the street from Christmas Park and made the Santa suits for Howard.

“Then I became friends with Charlie’s daughter and family, Gail Bergeman, a friendship which continues today,” McPherson said.

He graduated from the Santa Claus School and has continued in his Santa role ever since. He hopes his presentation at the Cobblestone Museum will spark a lot of interest.

“Charlie Howard and his love of Christmas should never be forgotten,” McPherson said. “I hope everyone gets bitten by the same bug and carries on the tradition.”

It was in the late 1930s when Howard realized how shabby and unprofessional some Santas looked, and he wanted to do something about that. He started to convert three large barns on his farm into what became Christmas Park and the world’s first Santa Claus School. This small attraction became well-known and brought visitors from all over the Northeastern United States.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Ken McPherson, a Santa portrayer, visited the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina on Nov. 30, 2018 for a pajama storytime. There were about 75 kids in attendance, who shared their Christmas wish list with Santa.

Part of Howard’s concept with Christmas Park was to give his Santa Claus School a working campus with a classroom, dressing rooms and extensive props to better educate the Santa students.

In 1948, Howard became Santa for Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, which he continued until 1965. His Santa career led to appearances on television, in magazines and newspapers, including “What’s my Line,” “To Tell the Truth,” “The Tonight Show,” Life Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.” He also contributed to “Miracle on 34th Street.”

McPherson will be showing memorabilia he has collected over the years, some from the late Mildred Baker of Medina. The former Mildred Wilson, she lived in a cobblestone house next to the Ward House for many years. She was a friend of Howard’s and ran the gift shop for him at Christmas Park.

The Cobblestone Museum also has a guest book signed by thousands of visitors to Christmas Park, which can be viewed during the presentation.

The event is free, but a free-will offering will be taken. Reservations are not required, but are appreciated.

Bronze statue of Santa is fitting tribute to the late Charles W. Howard

Posted 16 June 2023 at 9:36 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: A new bronze statue of Santa Claus was unveiled on June 10 in honor of the late Charles W. Howard. The Albion Betterment Committee spearheaded the project.


On behalf of the Santa Claus Oath Foundation and the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, we would like to extend our congratulations to the community of Albion, New York on the dedication of the Charles W. Howard statue. And a very special thank you to all that has made this dream into today’s reality. A job and labor of love well done.

I so wish I personally could have been there on the unveiling on June 10. I was privileged to bring the first celebration of his legacy to Albion, New York in 2010…and the Legendary Santa Claus Conference there in 2015. And, I got to present to Albion, on behalf of the State of New York, a proclamation from the New York State Senate in 2017 to his family and the community.

Charles W. Howard was truly an American original. He was born on June 15, 1896 in the house that he would live in his entire life. As a boy he did chores on the family farm and had little time to play, but when he did his imagination would take him to far off magical places.

As an adult he got to travel all over the country making magical memories for others. No matter how or where Howard roamed, his heart and home were always in Albion, New York.

Howard’s Santa career is that of a Legend. He first played Santa Claus in a 4th grade school play. Later as a young man, he played Santa for his church and was asked to help out a friend by being Santa in a store front window display in a local furniture store. These experiences prompted Howard to think about what Santa meant to the children.

During the course of the next few years, Howard continued to think about the Santa experiences and the smiles it brought to children’s faces. In November 1935, Charles W. Howard took a step with fate and officially embarked on a career as Santa Claus in a Rochester department store.

Howard would become famous portraying Santa Claus over the next 30 years. In 1937 he founded the world’s first Santa Claus School at his farmhouse in Albion after a local newspaper reporter suggested he train others to handle the demand for his services.

The next year he gave his growing fame a boost by teaching Santa classes in Santa Claus, Indiana. Eventually he would teach students from all over the country and became one of the most sought after Santas in the nation. Howard eventually appeared at department stores in Buffalo, Kansas City, and Dallas during different times in his career.

In the late 1940s, Howard started to convert three large barns on his farm into what became Christmas Park. This small attraction became known all over the Northeastern United States. Part of his concept in creating Christmas Park was to give the Santa Claus School a working campus with a classroom, dressing rooms, and extensive props to help better educate the student Santas.

In 1948 he became Santa for the Macy’s Parade in New York City and continued with the Parade until 1965. His Santa career led to appearances on television, in magazines, and newspapers; including: What’s my Line, To Tell the Truth, The Tonight Show, Life Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. He also contributed on Miracle on 34th Street.

Howard’s life cannot be captured in his Santa work alone. As a young boy he got a coping saw as a gift. His woodworking skills eventually led him to handcraft toys for the Medina Toy Company. Making toys was just one of Howard’s passions. Always one with a sweet tooth, he developed his own ice cream recipe and went into business with Howard’s Ice Cream.

Howard was well known for his work in the Albion community. He belonged to many civic organizations, served on many social committees, and was a member of the First United Methodist Church. Howard was also very active in many regional theatre productions. He wrote, directed, and starred in many plays and reviews in Western New York State.

His work with county and state fairs was also extensive. Efforts to publicize the produce of local farmers led Howard to make the world’s largest apple pie and build a scale replica of Niagara Falls with apple juice.

Whether he was promoting one of his many projects or being Santa Claus, Howard never forgot what was really important. He was first and foremost Charles W. Howard… a son, a husband, father, grandfather, church elder, friend, and community minded citizen. He loved his family, his friends, his town, and he loved to smile and make people happy.

Sadly, Howard passed away on May 1, 1966 at the age of 69.

During his life, Charles W. Howard never forgot the little boy inside himself that smiled at the world. He thought everyone should smile and nothing gave him more pleasure than when he could bring a smile to the face of another person, especially a child. It was a simple gift that he gave to everyone he met.

Rest in Peace Charlie…and thanks.

Wishing you all the very best and remember to always keep the magic and believe.


Phillip L. Wenz

Dundee, Illinois

Santa Claus Oath Foundation and International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, Charter Member with Class of 2010

Bronze statue of Santa unveiled in Albion today after Strawberry Fest parade

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 June 2023 at 7:32 pm

Statue honors legacy of Charles W. Howard who ran Santa School and Christmas Park in Albion

Photo by Tom Rivers

ALBION – A bronze statue was unveiled today at about noon honoring Charles W. Howard, who ran a Santa School in Albion from 1937 until 1966.

Leaders of the Albion Betterment Committee – Gary Kent, Gary Derwick (behind Kent) and Joe Gehl – are joined by three Santas in celebrating the unveiling of the statue.

When the covering was removed from the statue, confetti was shot into the air.

The Betterment Committee worked on the project for eight years, raising about $80,000 from the local community without any grants or state funding.

Mary Ida Doan, center, takes a close look at the statue depicting Charles W. Howard. She and her late husband, Nate Doan, both graduated from the Santa School led by Howard. She traveled from Michigan to be in Albion for the dedication. She was joined by her son Jack.

Mrs. Doan said Howard “was like family” and she didn’t want to miss the statue unveiling.

After Howard’s death in 1966, Nate and Mary Ida Doan continued the school in Howard’s name. They would eventually move the school to Bay City, Mich. and they served as the school deans until Tom Valent took over the leadership in 1987. Mr. Valent continues to lead the school today in Midland, Mich. and he has kept the school in Howard’s name.

Three of Charles Howard’s grandchildren and pictured with the three Albion Betterment Committee directors who have worked on the statue project the past eight years. From left include Charles Howard’s grandchildren Susan Howard Brown, Charles Bergeman and Jane Holland and ABC directors Gary Derwick, Joe Gehl and Gary Kent.

The statue of Charles Howard in a Santa suit is in front of a 24-foot-long mural created in 2018 by Stacey Kirby Steward, an Albion native.

The new statue is at ground level so people can easily get close and get a picture with him, with the mural providing a striking backdrop for photos. The statue is just about life size at 6 feet tall.

Gary Simboli, a retired Albion music teacher, leads the group in Christmas music, including “Here Comes Santa Claus,” before the statue dedication. To the left are members of Charles Howard’s family, including three grandchildren and great-children. Mary Ida Doan and her son Jeff from Michigan also attended the celebration today in Albion.

Jane Holland of Williamsville, Charlie Howard’s granddaughter, thanked many people in the Albion community for working to honor her grandfather. She made special note of Ken McPherson of Medina, who is a Charles W. Howard Santa School graduate and a collector of memorabilia for the school and Christmas Park.

Holland said everyone can be a part of Howard’s legacy by asking themselves a simple question: “What can we do to make somebody else’s life brighter?” she said.

Howard’s grandson, Charles Bergeman of Lewiston, said he was named after his grandfather and was called “little Charles” when he was growing up.

Brian Porter, the sculptor of the statue, had experts on Howard over several times to his home and studio. In one visit to Porter’s home, Bergeman suggested the cheeks needed to be a little bigger to better reflect the likeness of his grandfather. Bergeman smiled and Porter took a photo, and used that image to shape the cheeks on the statue. Bergeman said the final look is perfect in capturing the look of his grandfather in a Santa suit that Howard himself designed.

Gary Derwick, Joe Gehl Gehl and Gary Kent, leaders of the Albion Betterment Committee, were the driving forces in raising money for the statue and seeing the project to fruition. The community gave $80,000 towards the project. There weren’t any grants or government money towards the statue.

Kent said Howard remains a revered leader in the Santa community. Kent was able to see that first-hand during Santa conferences in Albion in 2010 and 2015, when people who portray Santa traveled all over the country to come to Howard’s hometown.

Some of those people were disappointed there wasn’t more done in the community to celebrate Howard.

The Betterment Committee has since put up “Believe” signs, installed a lighted welcome sign with a cutout of Howard in a Santa suite on Route 98, upgraded a sign at the former Santa School site, and supported other projects honoring Howard, including the mural at Waterman Park where the statue is located.

Kent and the ABC group believe celebrating and highlighting some of the community’s history can help Albion be more vibrant today. Putting in the statue in the downtown should help bring more people to the business district in the heart of the community.

A crowd gathered at Waterman Park, which is a half block south of the Erie Canal. The Albion Betterment Committee thanked donors for making the project a reality.

Susan Howard Brown, second from right, is Charles Howard’s granddaughter. She made a 6-hour drive from Michigan to be at the statue unveiling. She is joined by her son William Brown and his girlfriend Catherine Crowell (left), and daughter Stephanie Brown and her fiancé Steven Evans. Santa Vern from Boonville, NY also joined the celebration.

Stephanie Brown, Howard’s great-granddaughter, said “the magic of Christmas” remains very special in the family, as well as Howard’s role leading the first Santa school. He was a prominent Santa who also starred in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for nearly 20 years.

“It’s nice to see that he is treasured here,” Brown said after the statue dedication. “He loved people and it’s nice to see the people around here love him back.”

Brian Porter, a sculptor from Pendleton, is photographed with the statue he created over about 18 months. Porter also is the sculptor for the bronze statue of a soldier outside the Orleans County YMCA, which is the former Medina Armory.

The statue in Medina of the soldier was dedicated on Sept. 7, 2019 in a project honoring the 550 soldiers who trained at the Armory from 1898 to 1947. They fought in four major conflicts: the Spanish American War, Mexican Border Incursion, World War I and World War II.

Many people stopped by the statue today to get a photo, including Stacey Kirby Steward, the mural artist of the Santa in a sleigh over the courthouse and downtown Albion. She visited the statue with her niece Rosemary Kirby, center, and daughter Skylar.

Mary Ida Doan, a Charles W. Howard Santa School graduate from when Charles Howard taught the school, gives the statue a close inspection. Howard’s family and local Santa enthusiast Ken McPherson of Medina also touch the statue and give it a close look. They all said the statue is a fitting tribute to the man who helped so many people serve in the role as Santa.

Strawberry Fest will celebrate Santa on June 9-10

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 June 2023 at 9:57 am

Bronze statue in honor of Charles W. Howard to be dedicated June 10; more parade entries sought

Photo by Tom Rivers: The concrete footer that will be the base for a new bronze statue was poured in early May at Waterman Park on North Main Street. A bronze statue looking like Santa Claus will be dedicated after  the parade on June 10 at approximately 11:30 a.m. The 24-foot-long mural of Santa in flight over downtown Albion was created by Albion native Stacey Kirby Steward in 2018.

ALBION – The upcoming 35th anniversary Strawberry Festival has a theme “Here Comes Santa!” The festival committee wants to celebrate the dedication of a bronze statue of Santa Claus.

The Albion betterment Committee has been raising money for the statue for about a decade. It will be dedicated after the parade on June 10 at about 11:30 a.m.

The statue is in honor of the late Charles W. Howard, who ran a Santa school in Albion from 1937 to 1966 and also operated Christmas Park. Howard is revered in the Santa community and a school still bears his name in Midland, Mich. that trains people portraying Santa Claus.

The Albion Betterment Committee encourages people, especially in the parade, to wear Santa hats, elf costumes or other Christmas costumes.

Participants in the Strawberry Festival 5k/8k will be giving Santa hats for the race at 8 a.m. on June 10 and the shirt for the race has a Santa and strawberry design. Click here for more on the race.

June Persia, the festival chairperson, said the event is coming together and will include some changes due to the Main Street lift bridge being out of service for a major rehabilitation project.

The parade route will end by turning onto West Bank Street, instead of crossing the bridge. With the bridge out of commission, that has allowed organizers to use part of North Main Street for some activities.

The section from Bank Street to Beaver Alley will host a cornhole tournament on Friday evening, June 9. There also will be alcohol available in a wine and beer tent in an event organized by Dubby’s Tailgate.

Persia said the festival mainstays will be back with about 60 craft vendors signed up so far, a full food court, a classic car show and a lineup of bands and entertainment.

She welcomes more floats and entries in the parade that starts at 10 a.m. on June 10. Those floats are needed to space out the marching bands and other musicians in the parade. For more information about being in the parade, reach out to Persia at 585-704-1994.

The “amazing turtle race,” which features 1,000 rubber turtles floating on the Erie Canal, will have a different starting point. The turtles are usually launched from the Main Street lift bridge. This time they will be let go from a Sheriff’s boat.

“I’m looking to bring the community together and to welcome people from outside Albion to see what our village is really about,” Persia said. “This has been a very successful event in the village. We want to see it grow.”

Strawberry Festival in June will celebrate Santa, make some changes due to closed bridge

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 February 2023 at 4:47 pm

Bronze statue honoring Charles Howard to be dedicated June 10

Photos by Tom Rivers: Santa and Mrs. Claus attended the June 2018 Strawberry Festival parade and greeted the crowd along Main Street.

ALBION – Organizers of the Albion Strawberry Festival announced the two-day event will be back June 9-10 with some changes due to the Main Street lift bridge being closed.

The parade route, which used to head north on Main Street over the bridge, will instead turn left on West Bank Street, said June Persia, chairwoman of the festival.

The organizers also are seeking the state Department of Transportation’s permission to close Main Street to traffic from Park Street to the bridge. A detour would be expected to send traffic down East Park Street to work their way over to the Ingersoll Street bridge for those headed north.

A statue of Santa, in clay form, was shown to the Albion Betterment Committee on April 23. The statue will be cast in bronze and is on schedule to be ready in time for the Strawberry Festival.

This year’s festival has a theme of “Here Comes Santa” to celebrate the unveiling on a new bronze statue in the likeness of Santa. It will be in Waterman Park, about a half block south of the canal.

Brian Porter, a sculptor from Pendleton, is creating the statue and it is on schedule to be ready in time for the festival. It will be dedicated on June 10 in honor of the late Charles W. Howard, who ran a world-famous Santa School in Albion from 1937 to 1966, and also operated Christmas Park.

Howard remains a revered figure among Santa impersonators. The Santa School is now in Midland, Mich. and still bears his name.

Volunteers are discussing ways to have more festival fun. Persia said a cornhole tournament on Main Street, near the closed off bridge, is one possibility. Organizers are looking for more activities that would be fun for adults, while keeping the children’s entertainment.

Persia has been helping to plan the festival for the past decade. She looks forward to the two-day event with live entertainment, a food court, arts and crafts vendors, a 5k/8k race, the parade and other activities. This will be the 35th Strawberry Festival.

“I want to see the community come together,” she said about the festival. “I like to see people come into our village. We have a beautiful village.”

A team of volunteers is needed to plan and run the event. More volunteers are welcome Persia said. The planning committee meets twice monthly, alternating every two weeks from a morning meeting to an evening meeting.

The next meeting will be 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Hoag Library. For more information, reach out to Persia at (585) 704-1994.

Medina High School recognizes 4 ‘Distinguished Alumni’

Posted 3 January 2023 at 8:56 am

Elizabeth Cooper Leone, Mercedes Holloway Wilson, Kate Schirmer Messner and Christopher Parada are recognized by school

Photos courtesy of Medina Central School: Mercedes Holloway Wilson (left), Principal Michael Cavanagh and Elizabeth Cooper Leone celebrate on Dec. 21.

Press Release, Medina Central School

MEDINA – Medina High School recognized four distinguished alumni on Dec. 21 for their outstanding contributions to their community and/or their chosen career.

The award is given annually to honor alumni, promote school spirit, foster pride in the school and community and to serve as an incentive for the current student body.

This year’s recipients are Elizabeth Cooper Leone, Mercedes Holloway Wilson, Kate Schirmer Messner and Christopher Parada.

“Having worked in Medina for many years, I can definitely say that it is a blessing to be part of a community like ours,” said Michael Cavanagh, the school principal. “The people that we honor today are proof that we are all capable of achieving greatness and truly making a difference in society.”

Elizabeth Cooper Leone formed Cooper Dolls in 1993 when she combined a love of sculpting with the desire to own her own business. She graduated from Medina High School in 1975 and earned a Liberal Arts degree from Wells College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education from Buffalo State College.

She started Cooper Dolls with eight pounds of clay and a 1954 sewing machine and began to design, sculpt and market her work as collectible dolls and holiday figurines. She incorporated themes in her work of her memories of growing up in Medina.

She has exhibited her work and has collectors around the world and has had her dolls featured in magazines and books. She has won several Doll of the Year awards and was invited to show her work at Disney. Mrs. Leone thanked her teachers at Medina for inspiring her and encouraged students to follow their dreams.

Mercedes Holloway Wilson is a 2000 Medina High School graduate. While she attended Medina, she was a proud member of the varsity volleyball, girls basketball and track and field teams. She is an accomplished singer and sang the National Anthem at Section VI basketball games at Erie Community College in Buffalo her senior year.

At the age of 28 years old, Mercedes was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. With her belief that a healthy body goes together with a healthy mind, she set herself on a path to not only heal herself, but to help others. While still undergoing treatment, she founded a non-profit organization called For Our Daughters, with the goal of helping girls live longer, healthier lives by taking greater control of their well-being. She started a broadcasting career at WBBZ-TV with a show called “What’s the Buzz” and focused on a more healthier lifestyle with a focus on nutrition. She authored a book on healthy eating and started hosting a television segment called “Recipes for Life” on WKBW-TV’s “AM Buffalo”.  She was then promoted to be the co-host of the “AM Buffalo” morning show.

In her spare time, she shared her grandmother’s relish recipe to a manufacturer and now you can purchase Sadie’s Relish in many local stores. She also hosts workshops to educate young women on living a healthier lifestyle.

She thanked her teachers at Medina High School for encouraging her along the way and extended a very heartfelt thank you to her aunt and uncle with whom she lived with while attending school. She presented her uncle, Dave King, with a special plaque, for helping to raise her into the woman she is today.

Kate Schirmer Messner graduated from Medina in 1988. While at school, she was a proud member of the Medina Marching Band where she played flute and piccolo and was also a varsity volleyball player. She pointed to her teachers from Oak Orchard Elementary and on who inspired her love for writing.

Because of the educators she encountered at Medina, she pursued English and journalism and received a BS in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She went on to work as a television news producer and reporter for NBC affiliates in Syracuse, New York and Burlington, Vermont. She also earned a MS in Teaching from SUNY Plattsburgh and spent 15 years teaching middle school English and Writing.

Kate then began to write and publish young reader books such as “The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z” in 2009. She received the prestigious E.B White Read Aloud Award.  In her career she has gone on to write more than 50 books for children. Her titles have included award-winning picture books like “Over and Under the Snow”, “The Brilliant Deep” and “How to Write a Story”.  Novels like “All the Answers”, “Breakout, and Chirp” and nonfiction like “The Next President” and “Tracking Tortoises”.  She is also known for the popular “Ranger in Time” chapter book adventures, the “Fergus and Zeke” easy readers and the “History Smashers” graphic nonfiction series.

Kate was honored in 2022 with receiving the Empire State Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. Her books often appear on state book award lists, and her science-themed picture books have been honored with the Green Earth Book Award and the Riverby Award for Natural History Writing. She is also a New York Times bestselling author and devotes time visiting schools and libraries around the world to talk about books, writing and reading.

Chris ParadaChristopher Parada was a member of the Medina High School Class of 2002. He has been part of the Palace Theater team in Lockport for over 15 years and the Executive Director for over 10 years.

During his time at the theater he has helped lead the Palace to being a central part of the Lockport community. Directing over 75 shows, he has brought his creative style to thousands of patrons, entertained families and helped to boost the Lockport economy. He has also helped to keep the Palace Theater going through the lean years to prepare the business to partake in a four million dollar renovation that is currently taking place.  With the help of the Board of Directors, he is ensuring that the Palace will be there for years to come.

When Chris is not leading the Palace Theater, he has a little side gig as Santa Claus! Ten years ago, Chris built the Santa Cottage on Day Road in Lockport. Every December, he plays Santa to local families with the thousands of children who visit the cottage. He charges nothing for this holiday joy and loves allowing families time to talk and take pictures to create holiday memories to last them a lifetime.

There is no doubt, that Chris has community service in his heart. He is also a longtime member of the Light Up Lockport committee, that brings residents together to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. He raises funds to help decorate Main Street for the holidays and assists the community in any way that he can. His hard work, dedication and passion have truly benefitted Lockport and the surrounding areas thanks to his vision and drive. Chris says he is very grateful for this award from Medina Central School District and wishes he could have attended in person.

Mr. Cavanagh says it was an honor to be able to recognize this year’s outstanding alumni. To earn this honor, nominees must be a current or former member of the school community, who have graduated at least 10 years ago and who have achieved one or more of the following: excellence in their chosen career, made outstanding contributions to their community or profession or someone who made an outstanding contribution to humanity.

“What I find quite interesting is the diversity among the honorees,” said Mr. Cavanagh. “They have definitely left their mark on society, whether it is right here in our backyard, or in places throughout our country. It was our distinct pleasure to present our alumni with their plaques and recognize their achievements.”

Medina High School to honor 4 distinguished alumni

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 20 December 2022 at 8:55 pm

MEDINA – Medina High School will honor Distinguished Alumni in a ceremony at 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to principal Michael Cavanagh.

This year’s inductees into the Medina High School Alumni Hall of Fame are Elizabeth Cooper Leone, a local sculptor and designer of dolls. Her creations have been purchased by people all over the world, Cavanagh said.

Mercedes Holloway Wilson started a program, For Our Daughters, to encourage young girls’ interest in a healthy lifestyle. She did this while fighting breast cancer. She currently is a host on AM Buffalo and shares recipes for life weekly.

Kate Schirmer Messner is a well-known children’s author, with more than 50 books to her credit.

Christopher Parada is head of the Palace Theater and known for playing Santa Claus and building the Santa Cottage on Day Road, Lockport.

Inductees to the Alumni Hall of Fame are chosen based on excellence in their profession and contribution to humanity, Cavanagh said.