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.

Albion group signs contract for new bronze statue of Santa

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 March 2021 at 3:52 pm

Betterment Committee wants to recognize Charles W. Howard’s legacy as Santa School founder

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Members of the Albion Betterment Committee today signed a contract with Brian Porter of Pendleton to create a bronze statue of Santa Claus that will resemble Charles W. Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus School.

Pictured from left include ABC director Joe Gehl, Brian Porter, and ABC directors Gary Derwick and Gary Kent.

The statue is planned for the park on Main Street, a half block south of the Erie Canal where there is a mural showing Santa in flight with a sleigh and reindeer, high above the Courthouse Square and downtown Albion.

Porter expects to have a final depiction in a month of Charles Howard as Santa for the statue. The Albion Lions Club has agreed to let Porter borrow an original Charles Howard Santa suit to help finalize the model of the statue. Howard designed Santa suits that remain a distinctive style today. Howard also operated Christmas Park in Albion and served as the Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for 18 years.

The Betterment Committee has been working five years to raise funds for the projects. It can still use some more money for the base for the statue and other park improvements. Donations can be sent to Albion Betterment Committee/Charles Howard Project, 14487 Baker Rd., Kent NY, 14477. That is the address for Joe Gehl, one of the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee.

It will take Porter about two years to create the new bronze statue honoring Howard, who started the school in Albion in 1937 and ran it until his death in 1966. (Click here for more on the school.)

Porter is no stranger to projects in Orleans County. He created the 7-foot-high bronze statue of a soldier outside the former Medina Armory, which is now the Orleans County YMCA.

Porter is shown during a Sept. 7, 2019 dedication ceremony for that statue, which weighs 1,400 pounds. That project honored the 550 soldiers who trained at the Armory from 1898 to 1947 and they fought in four major conflicts: the Spanish American War, Mexican Border Incursion, World War I and World War II.

Santa portrayers from around the country visited Albion for a convention in April 2015. They gathered for a group photo by the County Courthouse.

Howard remains a revered figure among Santas. The Santa School continues in his name in Midland, Mich. Albion has twice hosted gatherings for the Santa community, the last in 2015 when there were about 200 Santa impersonators in Albion.

That group was disappointed when it was in Albion and there wasn’t more in Howard’s hometown recognizing his role in helping to shape the modern Santa Claus.

There have since been two large-scale murals installed in Albion, celebrating the community’s role with the first Santa Claus school. The Betterment Committee has put up “Believe” signs and convinced the local and state governments to name the portion of Route 31 in Albion in memory of Charles W. Howard. The new signs went up along Route 31 in December, just before Christmas.

The Betterment Committee wants to honor the Howard legacy in Albion, and provide incentive for the Santas to come back for their conventions, and also add an attraction in downtown Albion.

Info sought on first woman to graduate from Santa School

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 March 2021 at 1:11 pm

ALBION – The above undated news article includes Mrs. Arthur McAllister, left, who was the first woman to graduate from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School. McAllister graduated from the school in 1949.

The late Charles W. Howard opened the school in 1937 and ran it until his death in 1966. The school continues to operate in Howard’s name in Midland, Mich.

Phil Wenz portrays Santa Claus year-round at the Santa’s Village theme park in Dundee, Illinois. Wenz also is a Santa historian and coordinates annual Santa conferences, which have twice been in Albion.

Wenz is seeking more information on Mrs. McAllister, including her first name and what roles she fulfilled as a Santa ambassador in the community, as well as other biographical details.

Anyone with information on Mrs. McAllister can send it to and we’ll pass it on to Wenz.

Sign unveiled naming Route 31 in Albion for Santa School founder

Photos by Tom Rivers: State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, left, and State Sen. Rob Ortt this afternoon joined in a dedication event for the section of Route 31 in Albion. The state Department of Transportation installed the sign declaring the section of 31 as the “Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway.” Howard operated a Santa School and Christmas Park in Albion until his death in 1966.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 December 2020 at 8:22 pm

Courtesy of Jan Downey: Jan Downey of Albion shared this photo of herself and her brother, David Taylor, when they visited Howard as Santa at Christmas Park. Downey estimated the photo is from 1956 when she was 5. Many local residents still have strong memories of Howard and Christmas Park.

ALBION – A sign proclaiming Route 31 in Albion as the “Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway” was dedicated today by two state legislators and other community members.

Howard started the world’s first Santa School and ran it from 1937 until his death in 1966. He also was the Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for 18 years.

He remains a revered figure among people who portray Santa Claus. The school he started continues in his name in Midland, Mich. Howard, who is known in the Santa community as “The Dean of Santa Clauses,” in 2010 was a charter inductee in the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. (Click here for more information on the Hall of Fame.

The State Department of Transportation erected the sign on Route 31 near the Transit Road intersection, which is the eastern end of the town. Another sign is expected to go up on the western end near Wood Road.

The Albion Betterment Committee worked about two years to secure the approval. They sent letters to local government leaders – The Village Board, the Town Board and Orleans County Legislature. They all endorsed naming the section in honor of Howard, who also was a farmer, toymaker, and operated Christmas Park on Route 31 near Phipps Road.

The Albion Betterment Committee has worked in recent years to raise Howard’s profile locally and to help celebrate his legacy. The ABC put a sign on Route 98, south of the village, declaring Albion as the hometown of the Santa School founder. The ABC also has “Believe” signs in the community and is raising funds for a statue of hometown in downtown Albion. They group has raised $60,000 so far for the statue and plans to seek proposals for the project soon, said Joe Gehl, one of the ABC’s directors. He expects the project will be near $100,000.

Other groups have joined the effort to celebrate Howard. The Albion Rotary Club organized an effort to have a mural in Waterman Park that shows Santa in a sleigh over Courthouse Square. A new mural about Albion as home to the Santa School was completed this fall on the northside of the Lake Country Pennysaver.

A group of students in Rich Gannon’s AP US History class also had an interpretive panel made in Mount Albion Cemetery near Howard’s grave that celebrates his life.

The Betterment Committee sees Howard as a local man who did a lot of good for the community, a selfless person focused on others. Howard was known for setting high standards for Santa in how to act with children and how to look. He also designed and sold Santa suits.

Howard’s granddaughter, Jane Holland, was unable to attend today’s dedication. She sent a letter of appreciation that was read by Gehl.

“Grandpa was a humble man of little means but a big heart and a giving, caring soul,” Holland wrote. “To see him honored on this trail to and from the town the family still today cherishes and welcomes its comfort when we visit is a great privilege.”

State Sen. Rob Ortt said Charles W. Howard was a farmer in Albion who made a local and national impact, serving as the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Santa for 18 years and shaping the look and actions of Santas all over the country and even the world. Ortt and Hawley both thanked the DOT for getting the sign up on short notice before Christmas. The State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo both approved naming the section of the road in honor of Howard.

Joe Gehl, one of the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee, is interviewed by Ed Reilly of WGRZ (Channel 7 in Buffalo) in front of the sign, which was erected on 31 near Transit Road. That is the eastern end of the Town of Albion. Another sign is expected to be installed near Wood Road, on the western end of the town.

Santa and friends visit Albion Elementary

Posted 21 December 2020 at 10:19 am

Photos courtesy of Albion Central School: The Grinch, Santa Claus and Cindy Lou Who visited students at the Ronald L. Sodoma Elementary School in Albion last week.

Press Release, Albion Central School

ALBION – Students in Albion’s Ronald L. Sodoma Elementary were in for a holiday surprise last week as Santa Claus, Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch all made an appearance.

Santa Claus paid a special visit to students in grades PreK through first, reading his favorite story, “‘Twas the Night before Christmas.” Spaced 6 feet apart and wearing masks, the students and Cindy Lou Who sat and listened to the story and answered questions about Santa’s reindeer.

Cindy Lou Who was a friendly greeter throughout the day at the school.

It turned into an action-packed event as students soon spotted the Grinch’s arrival and warned Santa as the Grinch stole a present from under the tree. Cindy Lou jumped to the rescue, quickly chasing down the Grinch. She soon returned, bringing the Grinch and present back to the students and Santa – saving the day.

After the reading, Santa asked every student what he or she wanted for Christmas this year, with answers ranging from Barbie Dream Houses to toy combines to Play Station Fives and Nintendo Switches.

While the older students weren’t visited by Santa, many of them met Cindy Lou and the Grinch in the hallway throughout the day, getting in on the holiday fun.

Santa chats with students and reads the story, “‘Twas the Night before Christmas.”

As for next week, students throughout the district will join in the festivities with holiday-themed crafts and activities in the days leading up to Winter Break.

We would like to thank the Albion Elementary Parent Teachers Association and the staff who helped to make these visits possible, bringing some holiday magic into the building in a fun and safe way.

Santa shows some nimbleness in greeting these kids at eye level.

Many of the students wore Santa hats in meeting the jolly old elf.

Santa and friends bring smiles and gifts to Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 December 2020 at 9:13 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Santa Claus takes a ride around the Village of Albion this afternoon in a pickup truck driven by Ron Albertson of the Albion Lions Club. Santa went on a one-hour trip around the village and handed out toys and goody bags to kids.

Santa is joined by Party Tyme Bear (Christina Nenni) and Jolly Jingles (Michelle Wiseman). They are traveling down Chamberlain Street, part of the tour around the village.

Before the ride around the village, Santa met with children in the parking lot at Hoag Library. The Albion Lions Club organized the event, which included 150 donated toys and 50 goody bags. A dedicated volunteer wrapped all of the gifts.

This Santa is wearing an authentic Charles W. Howard Santa suit, which was donated to the Albion Lions Club. Howard founded a Santa School in Albion in 1937 and ran it until his death in 1966. He was a member of the Albion Lions Club.

Dona Scharping and her sister Mitzy Peglow, right, brought a breeding stock paint horse named Gooby to a holiday event outside in the parking lot at Hoag Library. Scharping dressed the horse in red and green with antlers.

Cameron Froman, 18 months of Albion, had fun meeting Izzy, a donkey from Scharping’s farm, Serenity Acres. Scharping also brought along her dog, a Corgi named Jodi who was very popular with the kids. About 200 people stopped by during the event from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Nickie Girardo, owner of Last Call Cocktails, served up free cups of hot chocolate.

Christina Nenni dressed as Best Tyme Bear and welcomed children and families. She owns Best of Tymes Party Rentals in Medina, and brings costumed characters and games to children’s parties and other occasion. She also served popcorn and cotton candy today.

Michelle Wiseman is an elf named “Jolly Jingles.” She is the sales manager for Best of Tymes Party Rentals.

Santa poses for a photo with Aria Santiago, left, and Winston Lockhart and.

Santa will make the rounds in Albion on Saturday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 December 2020 at 9:38 pm

Schedule includes ride through village to greet kids

Provided photo: Santa Claus stopped by the Community Kitchen in Albion this evening. He handed out some goodie bags and presents. Santa is joined by members of the Multicultural Club from Albion High School, including from left: Leah Kania, Faith Bennett and Olivia Morrison. The Community Kitchen will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day and will reopen on Jan. 8.

ALBION – Santa will be busy in Albion on Saturday. His day begins at 10:30 in the morning with the Hands 4 Hope Ministry at the Hoag Library parking lot.

Santa will be with Hands 4 Hope from 10:30 to noon. From there Santa will stop by the Clover Hill adult residence in Albion.

Then he will be back at the Hoag Library parking lot from 1 to 2:30 p.m. He will visit with children and their families as long as they are wearing masks and adhering to social distancing.

The Albion Lions Club is planning that event, which will also will include a visit by Deputy Jeff Cole and his K-9 Otto, and an appearance by Dominic the Donkey and his horse friend.

After that outing, Santa will ride around the village to wave to children and may deliver some presents to children.

The route includes:

• Starting at the library going east on Chamberlain Street, north onto Mckinstry, west on West State, north on Ingersoll, east on Linwood;

• North on Brown Street then to Lyndon Drive (back to the apartments), south back on Brown, west on Caroline, south on Main, west on West Bank;

• South on Clinton, west on Washington, north on King, east on East Park, east on East Park.

Depending on the schedule, Santa may extend the route and he may be accompanied by a special friend.

Governor signs off on renaming portion of 31 for Santa School founder

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 November 2020 at 2:39 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Albion Betterment Committee had this sign honoring Charles Howard erected in 2015 on Route 98 in Albion.

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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed off on state legislation to name a portion of Route 31 in Albion in honor of Charles W. Howard, who ran a Santa School in Albion from 1937 until his death in 1966.

Howard also was the Santa for nearly 20 years in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He remains a revered figure among the people who portray Santa today. The Santa School continues to operate in Howard’s name in Midland, Mich.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) and Sen. Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) both are pleased with passage of their legislation which designates a portion of New York State Route 31 in the town of Albion as the “Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway.”

“Mr. Howard was known for his hard work, his love for community and his jolly spirit; he represented the best any New Yorker could hope to achieve,” Hawley said in a statement. “With this highway dedication and the committed partnership of Sen. Ortt, Western New York has finally given the man the recognition and reverence he deserves. This holiday season and  year-round, we can all learn from Charles about how to be good neighbors, how to work to spread cheer and joy and how to live life to the fullest.”

The Orleans County Legislature in August 2019, passed a resolution, urging the state to recognize Howard by naming a portion of Route 31 in his honor.

Signs proclaiming the section of Route 31 in Howard’s honor will be displayed when entering the Town of Albion – northwest corner of Transit Road from the east to the southeast corner of Wood Road from the west.

State Assembly approves naming Rt. 31 in Albion for Santa School founder

Photo by Tom Rivers: This 24-foot-long mural of Charles Howard as Santa in a sleigh over downtown Albion was installed in June 2018. It was painted by Albion native Stacey Kirby Steward. The mural honors Albion’s history as home to the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School from 1937 to 1966. Howard also ran Christmas Park in Albion. Mr. Howard passed away in 1966. The Santa School continues in his name in Midland, Michigan.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 July 2020 at 12:57 pm

ALBION – The State Assembly has approved naming a portion of Route 31 in Albion in honor of Charles Howard, who founded a Santa Claus School in 1937 and ran it until his death in 1966. The school still bears Howard’s name but is now operated in Midland, Mich.

The state road officially will still be known as Route 31, and East and West Avenue in the village. But there will be signs at each end of the Town of Albion on Route 31, noting the stretch of Route 31 is the “Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway.” The section in Albion goes from Transit Road to Wood Road.

The State Senate also has approved the “Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway.” The legislation needs the governor’s signature before it’s a done deal.

Mr. Howard, in addition to founding a Santa Claus School, established Christmas Park in Albion on Phipps Road near Route 31. He portrayed Santa in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City for 18 years.

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

He developed the Santa School after noticing many Santas didn’t have training, and didn’t always interact with children well or meet a standard for dress. He established decorum for Santas and his Santa Claus suits became popular.

Howard remains a revered figure among the Santa portrayers world-wide. They have an annual conference, which twice in the past decade has been in Albion.

“Mr. Howard brought national acclaim to himself and his home town by establishing the world’s first Santa Claus School,” according to a resolution from the Orleans County Legislature last August in support of naming a section of the state road for Howard.

Jane Holland, Charles Howard’s granddaughter, sent an email on July 31, 2019 to Joe Gehl, one of the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee. The Betterment Committee has stepped up efforts to recognize Howard’s role in the community. The Betterment Committee has put up a gateway sign on Route 98, declaring Albion as Howard’s hometown. The group also has “BELIEVE” signs in the community and is working on a memorial bronze statue of Howard in downtown Albion.

The Betterment Committee has sought support for the road naming from local, county and state officials.

Holland said the family endorses having Route 31 be dedicated for Howard, who was a farmer and active in the community as a volunteer, in addition to running Christmas Park and training Santas at the school.

“Grampa was a humble man of little means but a big heart and a giving, caring soul,” she said in her email. “To see him honored on his beloved trail to and from the town – the family still today cherishes and welcomes its comfort when we visit – would be a great privilege.”

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) announced the Assembly approved the road naming. The Assembly also approved designating Route 77 between Pembroke Town Park and the intersection of Indian Falls Road in the Town of Pembroke in honor of a local soldier killed in the Vietnam War.

That section of 77 in Pembroke will be known as the “SP4 C. Jay Hall Memorial Highway.” Hall served as a rifleman in the United States Army in Binh Duong, Vietnam. On October 7, 1969, he was on a reconnaissance patrol in an area of known enemy activity. He and his group were suddenly subjected to an intense attack from enemy forces.

With complete disregard for his personal safety, Specialist Hall exposed himself to hostile fire while his comrades were able to obtain cover. During this action, he was mortally wounded.

“I’m proud that the Assembly passed these bills to help us recognize the men of our community so they will be remembered now and forevermore,” Hawley said about naming the portions of the state roads for Howard and Hall.

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Elizabeth Babcock, maker of ‘the finest Santa suits in the world,’ going into Santa Claus Hall of Fame

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 December 2019 at 10:16 am

Courtesy of Santa Claus Hall of Fame

The International Santa Claus Hall of Fame announced today that an Albion woman will be inducted with the Class of 2019.

Elizabeth Babcock made Santa Claus suits at Christmas Park, which was run by Charles Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus school. After Howard’s death in 1966, Babcock continued the Santa suit business.

Howard was inducted in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame in 2010 (Click here for more about Howard from the Hall of Fame). He was one of the charter members. The Hall of Fame is located at Santa’s Candy Castle in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Babcock’s Hall of Fame inscription reads:

“For over thirty years, Elizabeth Babcock made Santa Claus Suits that were worthy of the Howard name. Before she took over the suit business, Elizabeth worked at Christmas Park for many years in many roles. When the suit business became available, she was the perfect person to keep the tradition going. Elizabeth knew business, book-keeping, customer service, and most importantly, she could sew.

“She never strayed from the original concepts of the suit and was loyal to the Howard philosophy to the end of her life. She made the finest Santa Claus Suits in the world. She used the finest materials. She sewed them to specification to keep the high standard. But the component she added that was the most important to the suit was … Elizabeth Babcock’s Santa Claus Suits were made with love. Elizabeth Babcock passed away in 2006 at the age of 92. She left behind her own legacy of integrity and quality for the sake of keeping Santa looking like he should.”

Babcock is one of 13 inductees in the Class of 2019. Click here to see more on all the new members of the Hall of Fame.

Photo by Tom Rivers: This Santa suit made by Babcock is on display at the Christmas Cottage in Lockport.

Babcock is the third person connected to Christmas Park to go into the Santa Claus shrine. After Howard was inducted in 2010, George Cond went into the Hall in 2016.

Cond, a Holley resident, was trained as a Santa by Charles Howard. Cond was so good at portraying Santa that Charles Howard embraced Cond to be the Santa at Christmas Park in Albion, Howard’s entertainment venue at Route 31 on Phipps Road. (Click here to see the Hall of Fame’s write-up on Cond.)

The International Santa Claus Hall of Fame is an ongoing project that celebrates, studies and preserves the historical documentation of the many men and women who have greatly contributed to the Legend of Santa Claus, the organization states on its website.

A 15-member Hall of Fame committee reviews the candidates and considers their overall career, service to their community, range of appearances, contribution to the Santa world, length of service, uniqueness of career, originality, and charity.

Profiles are reviewed with a point value in each standard. The top 21-point value profiles are submitted for a 1 through 21 percentage vote. Those candidates who receive 75 percent are elected to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.

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Santa School founder built beloved Christmas Park

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 21 December 2019 at 8:07 am

80,000 people visited the Albion attraction in 1960

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 47

ALBION – Starting in the mid-1950s, Charles Howard started the process of converting his farm and barns to a Christmas-themed amusement park. On Saturday, September 22, 1956, this “entertainment, education, gift, and amusement center,” opened for a short, 13-week season.

Mrs. Henry Greene of Medina provided “Christmas Village,” a collection of 20 small houses, schools, churches, and other structures, fully furnished and lighted – an endeavor that required 25 years of collecting to complete. Also included was “Toy Lane,” a collection of 23 window scenes aimed at simulating store fronts. Children had opportunities to visit with Santa Claus, see reindeer in the stables, and visit Mrs. Santa’s Kitchen for a bite to eat.

Charlie Howard, left, was hands on in running Christmas Park in Albion.

In the files of the Department of History is a five-page Director’s Report prepared by Charles Howard for Christmas Park’s Board of Directors in February of 1960. Howard noted that extensive efforts were underway to rebuild the south end of the big barn, as the timbers were rotting away – they gutted the section and a steel beam was installed.

To prepare the miniature train for visitors, the cars were touched up and the engine sent to Buffalo where it would be examined, putting it “up in first class condition.” The business was in full swing and seeing considerable success after four years of operation. Howard noted that he sold the most merchandise in the history of the business during the current season, shipping out nearly 150 wigs and beards for cleaning and selling a large quantity of new merchandise.

The question of opening day was directed to the board members, noting that previous suggestions included opening the Saturday before Decoration Day (Memorial Day) all the way through the end of June. Howard mentioned the importance of shortening hours after Labor Day, but proposed extended hours over the summer, despite the need for added labor to do so. The biggest issue brought forth was the question of admission rates. He writes that 1959 was the first year since the Park opened in 1956 that complaints about the ticket prices were minimal; $.75 for adults and $.10 for children.

The surprising success of the Park was attributed to word-of-mouth advertising, but Howard recognized the importance of advertising outside of Orleans County to attract visitors. In a detailed breakdown of marketing ideas, he suggested that 24 sheet billboards be leased at $40 per month in Rochester and $50 per month in Buffalo. Should they want to light those billboards up at night, each would cost an additional $10 per month; he placed considerable emphasis on the point that this effort “must be done now.”

Road signs were also proposed for a more local approach. In 1960, the business had approximately 10 signs along Rt. 98 through to Batavia and Howard suggested adding a minimum of 40 more at $40 per sign. The previous year, Christmas Park handed out 41,600 brochures, a little more than half of the total visitors to the park, and a minimum of 70,000 was the proposed number for 1960. That year the Park attracted over 80,000 visitors.

After several years of operating Christmas Park as Executive Director, the operation grew to a point where he could no longer oversee it alone and resigned his position to a corporation of businessmen. On June 25, 1964, Howard wrote a letter asking for his name to be removed from all printed material and the sign at the entrance to the park.

The Buffalo Courier Express published a short article about the impending financial troubles of Santa Claus School, Inc., quoting Howard as saying, “They put in merry-go-rounds and ferris wheels. I have nothing against these things, but in Christmas Park a ferris wheel should be in the form of a Christmas wreath, and a merry-go-round should have reindeer to ride on.” He also claimed that the directors “lost the spirit of Christmas,” which resulted in financial losses.

In 1965, the operation filed for bankruptcy with debts totaling $95,324.00 ($748,836.81 today). Two months later the operation, consisting of Christmas Park and Santa School Inc., was sold at public auction and purchased by Vincent Cardone for the sum of $31,000. Elizabeth Babcock, who was acting as caretaker for the park and school after closing, acquired the Santa suit and equipment portion of the operation for $2,000. Newspapers reported an attendance of over 100 bidders at the auction, some coming from as far as Florida.

Unfortunately, the world lost one of its most beloved men the following year on May 1, 1966. Howard suffered a fatal heart attack, and as Bill Lattin so eloquently wrote, “guided his sleigh into the limitless great beyond.”

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Santa school started in 1937 with only 1 student, but then would gain a following

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 14 December 2019 at 7:35 am

Charles Howard works with a student at Howard’s Santa Claus school in Albion.

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 46

ALBION – There is no better way to reflect upon the holiday season than to recall the story behind the foundation of the world’s first Santa Claus school established in Albion. Thankfully, the history of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School was recorded in 1966 in Charlie Howard’s own words before his passing on May 1st of that year.

As a young child, Howard enjoyed crafting toy furniture and wagons from wood, which friends and neighbors adored so much that they often gifted them to loved ones. His mother sewed a suit for him as a boy to play the role of Santa Claus as he was “a short fat boy.” Wearing a “false face,” his blue eyes were filled with joy but he felt the mask was “more frightening to children than his own.”

He always admired the store Santa, but was never able to work up the courage to do it himself. One year he visited the Merrill & Son Furniture Store at Albion and suggested that they hire him to play the role of Santa while making toys in the front window; he was quickly hired and paid $15 per week.

Eventually he wrote to a store in Rochester seeking a similar position and was asked to visit for an interview. After traveling 35 miles outside of Albion, Howard arrived at the store dressed in his suit. The store owner took one look at him and asked “when can you start work?”; no questions asked.

Charlie was so terrified on his first day that he refused to exit the dressing room. When the store staff eventually forced him out, the smiling faces of hundreds of children melted those fears away and the day passed quickly. The journey from Albion to Rochester was a lengthy one, but convenient by way of the Falls Branch of the New York Central Railroad. He would awake at 4 a.m., complete his morning farm chores with the aid of a hired man, and his wife would drive him to Albion in time to catch the train.

It was after one particular interaction with a child that he fully realized the significance of Santa Claus. On that occasion, a little girl asked, “Santa, will you promise me something?” “What is it you want me to promise?” Howard responded. The child creeped in closer and whispered, “Will you promise me you will never shave?” At that point he understood that Santa meant a great deal to children, an interaction that led to a heightened curiosity about Santa Claus. He began to study, reading about his origins, and about who he was – he quickly realized that there was more to Santa than he had ever imagined.

It was in 1937 that he started the school, an event that made headline news. His first class consisted of one student, Frederick Wise, a welder from New Jersey who paid $15.00 for his tuition. The lack of response was disheartening at first but he was encouraged to raise tuition in an effort to increase the perceived value of the program. Gradually increasing the rate to $25.00, then $40.00, and finally $50.00, he witnessed an increase in enrollment each time.

“Santa originated in the home. It was best to keep him there,” was Howard’s reflection upon the establishment of the school. With no official schoolhouse or classroom, classes were held inside the family home located at the intersection of Gaines Basin Road and Route 31.

As interest in the program increased, he enlisted the help of experts in various areas. Charlie Hood of Medina was respected as a great showman and so his assistance was helpful in that aspect of portraying Santa. Ed Butters of Coldwater, Michigan was an expert in reindeer, so he was brought in to assist with one of the most important aspects of the Santa experience.

During World War Two the shortage of men led to women attempting the role, but as Howard recalled this only worked if the woman had a “deep voice.” One woman had such a voice and was a huge hit until store patrons complained about Santa visiting the ladies’ room! Howard went as far as to try a mail order course, which failed miserably; the spirit instilled by Charlie was the most important part of the school experience.

He told store owners, “to have what it takes to be a good Santa, one must have it in his head and in his heart rather than under his belt…they could take care of that without effort.” From a young age, he realized that teaching the role of Santa was a great task and always viewed that task as a privilege. So important was this role, that Howard remarked, “Show me a store’s Santa or a community Santa and I’ll tell you exactly the kind of store or community it is.”

It is no surprise that Orleans County had the best Santa of all; the original.

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Medina hospital hosts breakfast with Santa

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 7 December 2019 at 11:48 am

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Liam McGill, 5, sits on Santa’s lap at Breakfast with Santa Saturday morning at Medina Memorial Hospital. He came with his aunt, Caroline Way of Medina. Liam is hoping for an Xbox and a gift card from Walmart.

MEDINA – Medina Memorial Hospital rolled out the red carpet for Santa Claus this morning during their fifth annual Breakfast with Santa.

The event annually attracts up to 170 children, said Cindy Perry, director of outreach, education and marketing for the hospital’s Community Partners.

“We do this so kids can become familiar with the hospital in a non-threatening way,” Perry said. “It’s like the Teddy Bear Clinic we do several times a year. All the Orleans County schools come, and this year Elba came for the first time. Like that event, this one has a lot of hospital staff and students who volunteer.”

Rebecca Mannella, left, and Christine Walczak pose with Mrs. Claus (Valerie Rush) at Medina Memorial Hospital’s Breakfast with Santa Saturday morning.

Early Saturday morning, Jessica Downey, health educator with Community Partners, laid out stickers on the hallways directing children to Santa Claus, a craft table manned by GCASA volunteers where children made reindeer antler glasses, a cookie decorating station and breakfast in the cafeteria.

After greeting Santa and getting a free gift and candy cane, children were greeting by Mrs. Claus, who handed out Christmas stickers.

The gift this year was a snowman, in honor of 3-year-old Leon Sidari, who loved snowmen and died two years ago on Christmas Day from the flu.

There was also a mail box and table where children could write a letter to Santa.

Tammy Pritchard, left, administrative assistant at Medina Memorial Hospital, and Jessica Downey, health educator, are ready to welcome children to the fifth annual Breakfast with Santa Saturday morning at the hospital.

Parents received a tote bag filled with information on the flu, lead poisoning and hospital services, along with crayons which children could use to color the picture on the front of the tote bag.

Dan Capurso of Albion said this was the third year he had brought his daughter, Esmae, 5.

“We love this event,” he said. “It has become a Christmas tradition.”

April Walls of Albion said this was the first time she had brought her children, Owen Pelzer, 3, and Payton Babcock, 8.

“They just love it,” Walls said. “They are having such a good time.”

Amanda Luckman loved that the event was for children of all ages. She and Tyler Fending of Lyndonville brought their children Madilinn, 6, and Daniel, 3.

“We come every year,” Luckman said. “Daniel hasn’t sat on Santa’s lap yet without crying. We’re hoping it will be different this year.”

Madilinn Fending, 6, of Lyndonville and her brother Daniel, 3, enjoy breakfast during Medina Memorial Hospital’s Breakfast with Santa Saturday morning.

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