Friday, April 10, 2009

Odd Man Out

I have been involved in many “Santa” parades…matter of fact 30 of them…from televised parades in large cities like Chicago and Houston, to small parades in rural communities and beyond. So it was kind of odd for me when I was not in full regalia for the Holly and Shamrock Parade at Celebrate Santa. I was involved in the parade, but in a different role this time.

I had the wonderful opportunity to be one of the co-hosts for the syndicated broadcast of this event. And I must say that I had the best seat in the house. To be able to watch and comment on such a fantastic parade was more fun than a Santa in a cookie bakery.

Watching from above the parkway, on the balcony of the Midtown Lodge, the view was incredible. To see the nearly 600 participants all dressed in red, white and green proceeding down the winding road towards the TV zone brought a tear to my eye. This was going to be a parade with Santa like no other before.

The police estimated the crowd at nearly 20,000 people. The fathers, mothers, children and families that lined the street were at a Mardi Gras pitch. You could see excitement and feel it in the air. The atmosphere was pure magic!

As the parade progressed below our vantage point, I saw the faces of the hundreds of Santas, Mrs. Claus and elves beam with as much excitement as the spectators that viewed the parade. Somewhere during this event, the reality of the real world was suspended and the fantasy of childhood became the reality.

Even Mother Nature got in on the act. The preceding days before the parade it had rained, but on parade day the sky was as blue as the ocean and there were only a couple clouds in the sky. Some how deep inside, I knew that up there in the clouds were Charles (Howard), Jim (Yellig), Bill (Strother) and even St Nicholas looking down with smiles on their faces.

As the parade ended, we rapped up the broadcast and headed back up to the convention center. As I walked, I listened to the comments of the people who had just seen this event. Needless to say, the comments reflected my feelings…it was just spectacular!

As I stated before, it was odd for me not being in this parade, but this time I was happy being the odd man out.

Thank You Celebrate Santa

The Celebrate Santa Convention is now part of our collective memory and history. Words cannot express the wonderful experiences that DeAnn and I had in Gatlinburg. It took nearly 700 hundred Santas, Mrs. Clauses, elves, helpers and vendors to make up the expo at the beautiful Mills Auditorium and Convention Center. There were many others who could not attend and were very much a part of this gathering.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Joe and Mary Moore for asking me to be a part of this. I also thank Tim Mack for being the “glue” that held the convention together. These three allowed me to have free range to create the opening and closing power points for the convention. I also would like to thank Bill Sadowski, who worked behind the scenes. Bill is that very important tangible that most never see that helped bring it all together at the expo.

The media chairs, Michael Rielly and Dutch Schrap worked hard before and at the convention. Dutch stepped in when Mike could not make it and did a great job. This was by no accident, as the media plan that was developed was strong. Special thanks to Jerry Owens, Gary Isaacson and David Troutman who worked in the media room and as escorts for reporters.

Great appreciation and thanks to the Santa Claus Oath Committee members who were at the convention:
Jerry Owens / Co-Chairman
Gary Isaacson / Co-Chairman
Danny Nease
Ron Breech
David Troutman
Tom Kliner
Diana Owens
David Hoopes
Penny Hoopes
Dutch Schrap
Bill Sadowski
Ken Fulkerson
Owen Davenport
Barry Walzberg
Lesa Walzberg
Carl Carlucci
Kona Gant
Bill Young
Sam Militello
Dennis Blanden
Harold “Buddy” Norvell
Everett Johnson
Steve Gillham
Dennis Wendling
Gloria Wendling
DeAnn Johnson-Wenz

Special thanks to Keith and Cynthia Burton, who stopped by Holland, Michigan on their way down to the convention to pick up part of the display from Carol Myers of the St. Nicholas Center… and thanks to Carol Myers for providing the display.

Thanks to the chairs of Celebrate, Bob Elkin, Amy Abell, Dana Mack and Tom Zimecki for all their hard work and time.

Thanks to Jim Morrison of the National Christmas Center for bring some of his displays.

Thanks to Steve Small for researching the Santa groups and compiling their information and Tom Sheerin for working on the Traveling Oath Project. Steve and Tom could not make the convention but are very much a part of Celebrate Santa.

This convention owes a debt of gratitude to the Charles W. Howard family and the Jim Yellig family for being a part of Celebrate Santa.

To Mr. Charles Bergeman, grandson of Charles W. Howard…Thank you and your family for being a part of the Santa Claus Oath.

To Mr. Will Koch, grandson of Jim Yellig…Thank you and your family for being part of the Santa Claus Oath.

To Mrs. Pat Koch, the daughter of Jim Yellig, thank you for your recorded message that was shown during the Oath Ceremony.

To the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School alumni, thank you for letting me speak at your gathering at the Inn at Christmas Place after the convention.

To Paul Werne, Public Relations and Media Director of Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana. Thanks you and your staff for all the help over the last couple months.

To Kevin Klosowski of Santa’s Candy Castle in Santa Claus, Indiana. Thanks for all that you have done behind the scene for the Santa Claus Oath. It is very much appreciated.

To my Mrs. Claus DeAnn, thanks are not enough for all that you have done.

As I took the stage after the Oath slide show, I was given a standing ovation. I truly was humbled and I thank you all for that honor on behalf of all those who helped me on my journey to be standing there at that moment. It is truly appreciated.

If I have forgotten to thank anyone, I thank you now.

Celebrate Santa is over, but the emotions and memories will last a lifetime. Thank you all and the Santa Claus world for letting me be a part of it.

Phillip L. Wenz
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