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Local Santas inspired community spirit

HUNTING FOR HISTORY
By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Like most Christmas traditions, Santa Claus came from the old world, Europe, with immigrants and pioneers. The modern figure was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, who, in turn, was part of tales concerning the historical figure of Christian bishop and gift giver Saint Nicholas                                               

Over the years in Colfax there have been many Santas. Some dates have been lost in memory and will require further research, but the names popped quickly to the minds of several town natives. These are not necessarily in order.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Frenchy Grenier owned a jewelry store in town and would put on an annual Christmas party for the community and play the role in the red suit.

Thought to have been started by an early owner of the Main Street theater named Eldrev, several locals who attended Colfax Grammar School – now the site of the Sierra Vista Community Center – later remember walking to the Colfax Theater in December and being treated to a special show. Museum volunteer Donna Williams, specifically remembers seeing ‘Francis the talking mule’ for the first time. Owner Al Klokkevold donned the beard and suit and gave out presents to all and included a free drink and a candy bar.

Herb Harrison and wife Mickey were playing the role of Mr. and Mrs. Claus one Christmas Eve that included a puppy delivery. Unfortunately, they got stuck in traffic on Interstate 80 due to a large snow storm. However, they were able to convince a California Highway Patrol officer of their predicament and received a special escort to Secret Town. There they completed their mission and got safely home on the back road. The Harrisons now live in the Northwest.

In 1972, Bill Walker’s granddaughter, Krista Jackson, was attending Teeter-Totter Nursery School. At Christmas, a Santa Claus was needed at a party and her mom, Jeannie Walker Claxton, convinced her father to take on the task. That started a tradition of decades. Besides many annual school events, the ritual expanded to Christmas Eve visits to friends’ houses – the Wayland family and the Quinn family among them – and even senior community homes. Walker’s wife, Tudie, was the Mrs. Claus that assured the suit and all the accoutrements were perfect for the mission.

Stephanie Berg grew up in Colfax and when asked if she remembered the Walkers, got a huge grin on her face and said, laughingly, “Christmas was always a great time ’cause of Santa!” 

After Walker came Kenny Quinn, who played two roles – a clown in the summer with his Quinn Family Clowns, for many years a staple of the Independence Day parade. In the winter he was Santa, and Colfax native Ed Marson said, “He was especially good with the kids.”

Buck Jones took up the role for a period. He lived in Chicago Park with his wife and former Colfax Record Editor Pat Jones.

Names of others who played Santa that surfaced are Harry Westphalen and Chuck Myer; however, the timing has not been established.

Most recently – for almost 15 years ­– Dave Malloy has been filling the duties for the Lions Light parade as well as providing a knee while the area children submit their wish lists.

The Friends of the Library have set up Santa’s cabin in the Roy Toms’ Plaza at Winterfest for the last several years. The canvas shell that encloses the gazebo was painted by local artist Foxey McCleary to depict the interior and exterior of the North Pole lodging of the famous couple. For the last four of years, Kevin Pierce has generously served as photographer, donating his time to capture the treasured moment for the families. The donations from this event have aided the group’s support of the library’s very popular summer programs. Sponsored by the Friends, with the support of the Colfax Lions Club, Santa, Mrs. Santa and a trove of helping elves provided the photo opportunity and gave out gift bags to each child. Pierce summed things up for all the Christmas-time volunteers when he said, “It is an opportunity one time a year to give back to the Colfax community.”