Santa Committee pleased with early response to Charles Howard memorial

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 June 2016 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Santa Claus (Phil McKenna) and Mrs. Claus (Valerie Rush) appeared in Strawberry Festival Parade on Saturday to help promote a memorial for Charles W. Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus School in Albion from 1937 to 1966.

Santa and Mrs. Claus are pictured at the parade’s staging area at the back of the elementary school parking lot. Dan Parker of Albion drove a 1936 Ford truck in the parade, carrying a banner that said, “Welcome Home, Santa! Albion’s Charles W. Howard”

The Albion Betterment Committee is working on the memorial for Charles Howard at the current Waterman Park next to Cropsey and Cropsey’s law office, about a half-block south of the Erie Canal.

The committee sent out appeal letters late last month and already has received close to $3,000, said Gary Kent, one of the directors for the Betterment Group.

Santa and Mrs. Claus head down Main Street in the parade with two youngsters, Maleah Knight, 11, and Lucy Rivers, 10, right.

The memorial for Howard, which would include a bronze statue and other improvements to the downtown park, could cost $80,000 to $100,000.

The Santa community, the people who portray Santa, are very interested in the project and are expected to help. Phil Wenz portrays Santa full-time throughout the year at Santa’s Village Theme Park in Dundee, Illinois. He also helps coordinate an annual Santa convention that was in Albion last year and will be next month in Branson, Missouri. Wenz said he will promote the Howard project with the Santas next month in Branson. Wenz said about 1,000 Santas will be at that convention.

Howard remains a revered figure among Santas. The Santa School continues in his name in Midland, Mich.

Gary Kent rode in the truck with Parker for most of the parade route. Kent said children were ecstatic to see Santa in the parade.

“To see the reaction of those kids was unforgettable,” Kent said. “They just lit up.”

The committee is also selling “Believe” T-shirts designed by Rush (Mrs. Claus).

Donations for the project 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.