Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giving back...

Over my career I have had numerous opportunities to be involved with some great events and people. I learned early on that the "bigger" you become, the more you have to give back.

In 1995 during a hot summer's day at Santa's Village a young boy and his parents entered Santa's House to have a visit with me. The young man looked like any other boy his age, but his parents were acting peculiar. I talked with the boy for a while and at the conclusion his father thanked me for my time. About two weeks passed and the same boy and his parents came back to the park. This time the boy looked different. He was losing his hair. It dawned on me that this child was sick. After talking to the child, his mother took the boy out into the park. His father approached me and thanked me. He knew of me from some publicity that was published. He told me that his son was very sick and truly believed in Santa. I thanked him for coming to the park and if there was anything I could do to help? "Pray." he said. I took his name, phone number and then arranged for his family to have some passes to the park.

I got to know this family very well that summer and as the park's season was coming to a close, I asked the young man what he truly wanted for Christmas. "I want to fly with you and the reindeer." he replied. I was in trouble. I said, "Let me ponder that and I'll see what I could do." About a month passed by when I phoned his father to see how the boy was. His Dad said he was hanging in there, but all he talks about is Santa and the reindeer. I told him I was trying to think of a way to grant his wish. I had access to live reindeer but I was sure I could not get them to fly. I told his Dad I would keep in touch.

In early November of that year I was at a meeting of the Chicago Christmas Parade Association. During this planning session a thought occurred to me. I pulled the president of the association aside, told him of this little boy and that I had a plan. We sat in private for about an hour and upon leaving the meeting I knew that I could grant the boy's wish. I phoned the boy's father and told him to have his son and wife on Michigan Avenue a couple blocks north of the Art Institute on parade day.

The day of the parade I did my normal stuff and when my call time came, I mounted the "Miracle on 34th Street" Santa float. (This was the same float used in the re-make.) I glided up Michigan Avenue into the TV zone at the Art Institute. After the TV was off, we proceeded up the street. I signaled down to the vehicle pulling the float to stop. This was an unplanned move. No one except the president of the association and myself knew what was about to happen. The Jeep Cherokee pulling the float stopped and I signaled to one of the street marshals to come over to the float. I told him to go over into the crowd, get the young boy, his parents and bring them to the float. He did this with a perplexing look. As the family approached I asked the father to hand me up the boy and for the street marshal to put his parents in the vehicle. When all was in place I signaled the float to precede with the young man standing in front of me. I handed him the reins and said, "They are all yours. Fly'em up Michigan Avenue."

The million plus people on the streets of Chicago saw a young boy's dream come true that day. The crowd new something was special about this boy and cheered him. At the end of the parade route the Chicago Mounted Police surrounded the float as the boy and I disembarked. The media was in frenzy as to what just took place. The Police ushered the boy and his family into a squad car and took them back to their vehicle. We needed to preserve this young man's identity. I got into my limo and went back to my hotel knowing full well what was about to happen. The public relations director of the parade was instructed to give a statement. The media respected that statement and only a few photos were published of the event.

The boy died a few days before Christmas that year.

Just as in any other career or vocation, if you can help a fellow human being, you do it. I just happened to be in the right situation to "grant" his wish. It was also my responsibility.

Santa's Village-Gone Wild!

I have been asked to participate and write the forward for a new book on Santa’s Village. After numerous meetings with the author (a former park employee) and getting to know the project first hand, I agreed. Donating my time to this endeavor is important as the author has agreed to donate a portion of the profits of the book to the Make a Wish Foundation.

SANTA'S VILLAGE - GONE WILD! By Christopher Dearman is a revealing look at some of the fun, hilarious & outrageous stories that took place over the five decades Santa's Village in Dundee, IL was open.

Summers spent working at Santa's Village was a right of passage for thousands of high-school kids growing up in the Chicago suburbs. It was to teach responsibility and life lessons, while bridging the gap from adolescence to adulthood in a safe environment.

We can now lift the curtain and show what REALLY went on behind the scenes...

This book will be a window into the past to see some of the coming of age stories that could only happened if you were one of the lucky ones to work at Santa's summertime home.

Note: This book is not being written to hurt or embarrass anyone connected to Santa’s Village in anyway! Our intent is to capture memories of the people that worked at the park and put into perspective what in meant to be part of a Chicagoland summer tradition. Stories will be verified for context and content. This is a fun book, about a fun place and the fun people that worked there. As with all places that employ teenagers, there were shenanigans that went unnoticed by the management, and thus the name: SANTAS VILLAGE GONE WILD!

For more information on this upcoming book visit www.santasvillagegonewild.com
Visit Santa from Santa's Village Click Here .