Story by: Michael Dawes, director of PR, Rosewood Services
The number of pieces in the Santas Around the World exhibit has remained constant since 2005, when the last two were constructed by Great Bend artist Loretta Miller. But this year, that number has increased by one with Mrs. Claus making her long-awaited appearance.
Santas Around the World, twenty-five life-sized Santas, representing countries and regions from around the world, is now open to the public through Dec. 23. Located at 1223 Main Street, Great Bend, the exhibit’s regular hours are 4-6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 1-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. People can schedule appointments outside of those hours by contacting Rosewood at (620) 792-2536, [email protected]
The idea to add Mrs. Claus formed six years ago, but it was spurred along this year with the donation of a special gift by longtime community Santa Claus enthusiast, Randy Smith. Sadly, his wife, Sandy, passed away 2 1/2 years ago. Last month, he donated her Mrs. Claus outfit to be used for the new addition to the exhibit. For Miller, receiving Sandy’s costume provided the wonderful opportunity to finally build the perfect Mrs. Claus.
“Sandy’s suit is absolutely beautiful,” expressed Miller. “There’s a timing on things sometimes, where things happen as they are meant to be in the right moment. This was one of those times. It’s a beautiful costume and so deserving to be on display. Everything worked out perfectly. The hair is perfect, the way it curls around her hat. I was very excited when I completed Mrs. Claus. I know it means a great deal to Randy to know that Sandy’s suit isn’t packed away in a box somewhere, forgotten.”
Randy morphed into Santa Claus for the first time in 1968. In those early days, Sandy helped him every step of the way with his appearances throughout the community. About a decade later, she joined him as Mrs. Claus. Through four decades of serving as the Claus couple, they never charged for their appearances, but instead, accepted donations and gave the money to an organization, charity or a family in need.
At the start of their alias appearances, the Smiths each purchased a good-quality suit and then accessorized them as the years went by. For Sandy, she added items like a broach, a hand-warmer, and an apron. Miller used all of those items to decorate the outfit of Mrs. Claus.
“When I see Mrs. Claus standing there, seeing Sandy’s broach and her outfit, everything is so perfect,” said an awestruck Randy, when he saw the new display for the first time. “I can see Sandy in that moment. I can remember helping to fix her hair; putting on her hat; all of it, before we headed out to do an appearance. Seeing Mrs. Claus, it’s like we’re ready to step out the door to do it all again. Loretta’s work is so amazing.”
The donation of Sandy’s suit came full circle as the multicultural Santas display is operated by Rosewood Roots & Wings Foundation. Sandy was an original employee of Rosewood Services in 1998, and she served as the first Rosewood Gallery manager for 15 years, before retiring in 2013. Even in retirement, she continued to stay involved with the clients and Rosewood, until her health no longer allowed her to do so.
“Those clients at Rosewood are our heart,” said Randy. “Sandy’s younger sister (Kandi Pedigo) was a client at Rosewood. People can learn so much from a person with disabilities. That’s what kept us so engaged; they are family to us. Being Santa and Mrs. Claus for them and the community has been amazing. It’s not about the presents, it’s about making people smile, and bringing families together. There’s so much more to it than a suit and asking someone what they want for Christmas.”
Having representation of Sandy’s outfit included with the Mrs. Claus exhibit makes the new addition even more special for Rosewood, said Tammy Hammond, Rosewood founder and executive director.
"From the beginning of Rosewood Services, Sandy was such a difference-maker for our clients," said Hammond. "She dedicated her life to serving people with developmental disabilities. It’s so fitting that one aspect of her life, where she spent time caring for others as Mrs. Claus, will be represented for years to come by our Roots & Wings Foundation. I thank Randy for donating Sandy’s suit to the exhibit, and thank you to Loretta for creating a beautiful Mrs. Claus that honors Sandy Smith so well."
There is no charge to visit the exhibit, but a freewill donation is suggested to provide funds to Rosewood Roots & Wings Foundation that go toward helping to maintain the Santas Around the World exhibit. Also, a portion of the funds are donated to Great Bend’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program for helping to man the booth through the season.
Adding to the ‘Santas’ experience, the City of Great Bend provides a free opportunity for Santa Claus to visit with children at that location during the same regular hours that the Santas exhibit is open to the public.
People can find out more about the exhibit by visiting the website, SantasAroundTheWorld.com.