Fergus Falls Santa hands off the sleigh [UPDATED]Published 7:42am Friday, December 24, 2010 Updated 12:52pm Monday, December 27, 2010
You never hear anything about Santa having descendants, but that doesn’t bother Vic and Jon Petterson.
Vic, now 71 years old and a retired grain farmer in rural Fergus Falls, started dressing up like Santa Claus to bring cheer to area children in the late 60s, and he kept on doing through 2006, until a car accident limited his mobility. The tradition was kept up for a couple of years by Vic’s son, David, until David passed away. This year was other son Jon’s first official winter in the suit.
“I started in that little white school house on Highway 59,” said Vic, recalling that he was at a Christmas party for some schoolchildren there in 1967 or 1968. One of the other event organizers asked him to help in the basement for a moment.
“All of the sudden, I was dressed up like Santa Claus, and it looked kind of cute, so I went back up and handed out the presents,” he said.
The school house near Elizabeth closed its doors not too many years later, but Vic did not stop donning his Santa suit every year after Thanksgiving, traveling around by request to schools, churches, community centers and Christmas parties when asked. He was at it for so long, Vic joked, that sometimes he thought to himself, “I had kids on my knee (when I started), and I’ve got their grandkids on my knee now.”
Vic never charged for his services.
Though he was well known in Elizabeth, Vic went to other places in the area as well. He said he liked working in small communities because he knew the people and could personalize the way he talked to kids more.
He remembered one time when three young boys whose mother he knew got on his lap.
“The one little boy said, ‘I want a sister,’” Vic said with a chuckle. “I looked up at the mother and she nodded her head, and I said, ‘I think I can do that for you.’”
Vic also went on more personalized visits, including occasionally visiting sick children who were too weak to do anything but lie in bed.
“You never knew what you were going to do,” said Vic, although he said sadly that the spontaneous, personal visits are “kind of dying off a little bit.”
His son David took over the role of Santa before he died. Vic was very proud of him and he said David was a unique Santa because “he always had a white beard. So he grew a natural beard.” Vic and Jon always need to don the fake beard to pull off a convincing St. Nick.
The first official year of being the Petterson Santa has been a fun one for Jon, 50, who farms small grains very close to where Vic and his wife, Janet, live.
“It’s just fun just giving kids the joy,” he said. “It was fun hearing all the things kids want and what they’re going to leave you.” He plans on doing more events next year, and he’s happy to be following in his father’s footsteps.
“Passing the torch is a good thing,” Jon said, adding that he loves doing it for “the pride of giving back to the community a bit and seeing all the smiles … and all the pictures I’m in.”
Vic is also pleased that Jon is carrying on the tradition. It’s fun work, he said, and there’s very little downside.
“Only twice in all the years did I have somebody pee on me.”