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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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