By Chad Koenen
Everyone knows the real Santa Claus doesn’t come to all of the little towns across the globe before Christmas. He has helpers who report back to him and share the Christmas wish lists of boys and girls, while also spreading some Christmas cheer to people young and old.
As it turns out, Mike Wardlow is something of a right hand man to the big guy in the North Pole as the Henning resident celebrated his 30th year as Santa Claus in town.
“It started out at St. Edwards Church. I was sitting in the back pew and Clarence Cichy’s daughter told me she needed me to come up to the balcony and they stuffed me in the suit,” said Wardlow.
That was in 1991, and ever since then, Wardlow has been a bit of a fixture in his red suit around Christmas time. He began playing Santa for the Henning Santa Day in 1999 and has even made several appearances at the Henning School Christmas program as the big guy from up north.
“I am just the type of guy that I don’t say no to anybody,” said Wardlow.
In order to get ready for the annual Santa Day celebration in Henning, as well as all of his guest appearances around town, Wardlow spends some time each fall and winter researching some of the hot toy items of the year. That way he knows what the children are asking about and what items he could suggest if a child gets a bit of stage fright when meeting the larger than life character in Henning.
However, all of the research in the world doesn’t quite prepare Wardlow for some of the new electronics that children ask for at Christmas time.
“The request have really changed from year-to-year,” said Wardlow. “Back then it was all tinker toys, dolls and trucks and now it is all electronics. I kind of go through the Fleet catalog, but when it gets to the electronic stuff I am done.”
On Friday, Wardlow was honored by Henning Police Chief Mike Helle with a certificate to commemorate his 30th year as Santa Claus in Henning.
Wardlow said he has enjoyed the opportunity to be Santa Claus for 30 years and the opportunity to meet new people each year. In addition to visiting children, Wardlow has also went to the nursing home and care facilities in Henning to bring a little more cheer into the lives of everyone who is a little young at heart.
“I kind of enjoy meeting the people and after I started doing it for the kids, I started going to the nursing home,” he said. “It brought back memories of their childhood and whatnot.”
One of the more special parts for the local Santa legend has been the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with more than one generation of families. Wardlow said he is now holding many of the kids of parents he once held in Henning.
It’s a special bond that can only be understood by a jolly man in red and the smiling face of a young child during Christmas time.