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.”