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Small town Santas keep youngsters believing this holiday season

Screenshot 2021-12-08 094037.jpg
Canistota’s Santa, Brian Kruse poses for a photo with local youth.

A warning to listeners – this story may not be appropriate for listeners who believe in Santa. …

Tim Holzwarth says the joy of being Santa doesn’t end at Christmas. When he sees community youth around town, they often look at him with a bit of wonder.

These are the voices of some of Canistota’s youngest citizens sharing their Christmas wishes with Brian Kruse A.K.A. Santa Claus.

Kruse hears quite a few wishes while he sits in Canistota’s American Legion Hall during the community’s Annual Parade of Trees. He enjoys hearing how children respond to his simple question, “What do you want for Christmas?”

“Get to see the kids’ faces, see how they’ve changed and how they grown up from one year to the next. Some kids are a lot wiser than adults. I like the answers some of the kids give,” Kruse says.

A retired USDA meat inspector, Kruse became the community Santa just a few years ago.

“The guy who had done Santa had quit and they were looking for another Santa. He asked me if I wanted to do it. So, August 1st of 2019 I stopped shaving. I haven’t shaved since then,” Kruse says.

Brian’s beard is about 6-inches long and naturally white.

When it comes to being Santa, a real beard is almost as important as the red suit.

“One of the cuter things is, they’ll come up and grab my beard, finding that its real, breaks their thought that I’m not the real Santa. … I feel it’s an added feature and makes it a more real experience. Unfortunately, I am not able to have long curly white hair, so I wear fake hair. But the beard is the important part. That’s what they grab,” Holzwarth says.

Holzwarth had to dye his beard when he first donned the Red Suit as a young dad for St. Joseph Catholic Church’s Christmas Eve service. Then the Volunteer Fire Department invited him to be the guest of honor for their annual Santa Claus Comes to Town Event. Today, at 66 he no longer needs to dye his beard. And because he’s a local, he knows just enough about most Wessington Springs kids to make Santa believable.

“I know enough about them that I can sort of anticipate what they’re wanting, particularly if it’s a farm implement toy. I know what brand their dad uses. So, I kind of know if they want John Deere tractor, or an International or a Ford. I also know the football team that they are a fan of, so I can relate to, to brighten their experience up a little,” Holzwarth says.

A local Santa is more believable says Diane McDaniel. For many Christmas seasons, McDaniel has served as Philip’s Mrs. Claus alongside her husband, William.

“He grew up here. He’s been here all his life, so he knows the grandparents. He knows the parents. And a lot of them, at Christmas, they come from a distance, they are at their grandparents’ or aunts’ or uncles’ and he would just know the family history. He could rattle off their names,” says Diane McDaniel.

Although William is taking a break in 2021, the rancher reflects fondly on the Decembers he spent spreading Christmas Cheer to children and families from Philip and surrounding communities of Kadoka, Midland and Hayes.

“I just enjoy being around the kids. Seeing them, they really light up, a lot of them believe yet you know. I just enjoy being around them,” William McDaniel says.

In addition to making scheduled appearances at schools, nursing homes and community events, William enjoyed his role so much, he would spend most Christmas Eves making impromptu appearances at ranch houses throughout the area.

“I’d go out for five or six hours every Christmas Eve. Just go to – I might see some cars at somebody’s place, and I might just stop. They didn’t even know I was even stopping. Caught a lot of people by surprise,” William says.

Santa Tim Holzwarth can relate. While he volunteers as Santa to make Christmas special for the community, he says it also makes the season special for him.

“It’s a way you get to experience all these children’s excitement, laughter and tears, whatever it may be of the Christmas Santa Claus experience. I don’t know, it warms my heart I guess,” Holzwarth says.

Lura Roti is a freelance reporter working with SDPB.