By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Rain did not put a damper on the grand opening of the renovated Effingham Santa House last week on the old courthouse square.
With an umbrella held over his head, Santa Claus accepted the door key to the House that underwent a major makeover thanks to a collaborative effort by the Downtown Effingham Business Group and other local businesses, as well as volunteers.
The ceremony was conducted on the morning of Nov. 23, just three days before Effingham’s Hometown Christmas.
The jolly old elf had already tested out his remodeled “branch office” with the help of 2-year-old Emily Matteson, a dark-haired candy lover with a heart-melting smile.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Santa Claus said as he looked over his new Effingham house. “You have the ramps with guardrails for the older people to come in and not worry about having trouble getting in.”
The ramp and rails improved accessibility for all visitors, young and old, to Santa’s House. There were concerns with deteriorating wood on the old ramp at the House.
Outdoors, Santa’s mailbox for Christmas gift wishes is brighter with a fresh coat of red paint and bold lettering. Landscaping, sparkling lights and decorations also add a homey look to the house.
Inside, there is a new heater for keeping Santa and his visitors toasty on chilly days. The renovation also added some comfortable seating for adults bringing their children or grandchildren to Santa’s House. Behind Santa’s chair is a landscape photograph of a winter wonderland – a nice reminder of the North Pole.
Santa’s big chair has a plush design that can accommodate more than one child at a time. The curved arms of the chair can provide extra seating for siblings or cousins as Santa takes down gift wishes.
Jon and Lisa Schafer, members of the Downtown Business Group and owners of Baseball Card Connection on West Jefferson Avenue, used to visit Santa when they were children. Jon remembered how he used to be in line as a kid, sometimes with a good friend.
“Blaine Poland was in the crowd before we got started one morning and I took him to see Santa. That was like 30 years ago when we lined up to see Santa on the Square,” Jon recalled with a laugh.
Getting the Santa House renovated has been an ongoing project for local merchants. The Downtown Business Group took proceeds from different fundraisers to get the project off the ground. All those bowls of chili and other purchases during downtown festivals helped make the dream come true.
“The Business Group either picks a charity or project to support. In the past, we have donated to Blessings in a Backpack and the Veterans Memorial,” Lisa said.
But Lisa made sure to recognize the many contributors to the project. She introduced some of them present last week at event, but getting all the contributors together in a ribbon-cutting ceremony proved a challenge. Up to 100 people from local businesses lined up to help out. They are listed on a sign in the Santa House.
Lisa said people came forward in so many ways, including Marty Stock of Home Builders Supply. Each enhancement and pieces added to the Santa House demonstrated the dedication of residents to show what Effingham can do.
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Norma Lansing said the project is another example of how many people come forward to make Effingham a better place to live. And the crowd on hand last Wednesday showed that foul weather doesn’t discourage people to join a community event.
On Saturday, there were long lines of children to see Santa’s new digs. There were certainly some parents and grandparents in awe of the renovation.
Jon said the Santa House Project was about making new and recalling fond memories of Christmas in Effingham.
“It’s nice to take a break from the hustle and bustle and bring back some memories from your childhood. And I can’t wait to see the look children have when they line up for Santa this year,” he said.