WHAT HAPPENS when jolly old Saint Nicholas is joined by over two-hundred cousins who are literally “Santas-In-Training” on a festive excursion on Owosso’s Pere Marquette 1225? Assemble dozens of fuzzy bearded gentlemen in festive clothing, their elves, wives, all aboard an impressively restored steam engine, and the result is pure Christmas magic – even in October.
Gathered in the above “family” photo taken on Friday, Oct. 29 is Santa with his extended family from around the world. Visiting Owosso from as far away as N. Carolina, Texas, California, Colorado, Canada, and even Norway, these “Santas-In-Training” are all members of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland. This special, nonprofit school was established in 1937 with the mission to “uphold the traditions and preserve the history of Santa Claus.” During the 80th anniversary celebration of the school, the students discussed the history of Santa, proper dress and make-up, the use of sign language, reindeer habits, trendy toys, and more. Under the direction of Tom Valent, who took over as the “Dean of Santas” in 1987, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School is the longest, continuously running Santa school in the world.
Joe Valent, son of Tom Valent, shared that it was quite an awesome journey, growing up with a father who was the dean of Santa school. As a small child, he had many fond memories of coming home to a “house full of 6-foot-tall, 300-pound Santa Claus students.” He felt inspired, of course, to join.
Centered behind the sea of red, and the center focus for the unique visit, is Owosso’s Pere Marquette 1225. Steam Railroading Institute (SRI) executive director, Kim Springsdorf, can be seen toward the central front of the large group. SRI is located on S. Washington Street in Owosso.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)