Group seeks to close gap for bronze statue in honor of Santa School founder

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 November 2021 at 8:34 am

Betterment Committee pushing to have statue in time for Strawberry Festival in June 2023

Photos by Tom Rivers: This photo from March 24, 2021 shows the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee with sculptor Brian Porter after they signed a contract to have Porter create a bronze statue of Santa Claus in downtown Albion at Waterman Park. Pictured from left include ABC director Joe Gehl, Brian Porter, and ABC directors Gary Derwick and Gary Kent. The Betterment Committee is making a fundraising push for the project, which includes landscaping, mural(s), interpretive panels and lighting.

ALBION – The Albion Betterment Committee is excited about the progress in bringing a bronze statue of Santa Claus to downtown Albion, a project that will honor the legacy of Charles Howard in leading a Santa School that was in Albion from 1937 until his death in 1966.

Howard also operated Christmas Park in Albion and is revered among Santa portrayers even today. The Santa School is now in Midland, Mich., and continues to bear his name. It graduated a new class of Santas last month.

The Betterment Committee has raised $64,000 towards the statue project. It needs about $100,000 total to include lighting, interpretive panels, mural(s) and landscaping for a park on Main Street, a half block south of the Erie Canal. This is the spot where there is a mural showing Santa in flight with a sleigh and reindeer, high above the Courthouse Square and downtown Albion.

“On the 55th anniversary of his passing we have an opportunity to memorialize a man who became a beautiful reflection on our community and a source of pride,” ABC directors Joe Gehl, Gary Derwick and Gary Kent write in a letter seeking support for the project.

Howard is an icon among those who portray Santa. About 200 of the “Santa’s” attended a convention in Albion in 2015. That Santa convention “raised awareness of the community-building potential represented by greater acknowledgement of his place in history,” the ABC directors said.

They have put up new signs in Albion celebrating Howard’s legacy, and also were successful in getting the state to declare part of Route 31 in Albion as the Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway. Those signs went up last December right before Christmas.

Joe Gehl, one of the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee, is interviewed last Dec. 21 by the media in front of the sign declaring Route 31 in Albion as the Charles W. Howard Memorial Highway. There are signs erected on 31 near Transit Road on the eastern end of town and near Wood Road on the western side.

The Albion Merchants Association last year also commissioned a large mural with a Christmas theme on the north side of the Pennysaver building.

Brian Porter has been commissioned to create the statue. He has made several in Western New York, including the bronze statue of a soldier at the Orleans County YMCA, the former Medina Armory.

The Betterment Committee welcomes tax-deductible donations in any amount. They can be sent to the Albion Betterment Committee – Charles Howard Fund, and sent to Joe Gehl at 14487 Baker Rd., Kent, NY 14477.

The statue is an opportunity to honor “a humble, yet visionary, farmer who added to our identity and shed such a positive light on Albion and Orleans County,” the ABC said.

The group is pushing to have the statue in place by the Strawberry Festival in June 2023.