Dozens of Santas of all sizes greet visitors in Chuck and Rose Felter’s living room in Helena. Still more offer a welcoming smile in their kitchen and other rooms, peering from shelves, bookcases, and window sills.
“I quit counting at 200, and Rose guesses there are probably 300,” Chuck said. His collection started about 35 years ago when he received two of his grandmother’s Santas from his parents after she passed. A 3-foot-high stuffed Santa sits on a rocking chair in their home office year-round, along with an 18-inch high one that stands nearby.
The two original sentimental Santas are in fine shape despite their age.
“When we were kids, my brother and I tried to shove Santa up the chimney, but it didn’t work,” he said. “Some of his stuffing came out, so we fixed it. Every few years, I have to add a little more.”
After seeing the Santas, friends began contributing to the Felters’ collection.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” he said. “They’re from all over the world—Russia, Europe… I pick about five or six to keep out year-round along with the two original ones. There’s a Santa music box and a cookie jar. There aren’t any duplicates.”
During December, the Felters not only display hundreds of Santas, they become Mr. and Mrs. Claus for holiday parties at the Masonic Home and at Allegra, a printing company where Chuck works in the delivery department. They also used to do events for Helena Industries before the organization closed last year.
“We like being Mr. and Mrs. Claus because it’s a reminder about giving year-round,” said Chuck, 60. “We have a lot of fun doing it.”
Seven years ago, Chuck started becoming the embodiment of the figurines that overtake their home during the holidays.
“My boss knew about my collection and thought I’d be a natural Santa for our Christmas party,” he said. “She rented a suit, and the next year, she bought me one. A year later, Rose joined me as Mrs. Claus.”
At a party, he adds a touch of authenticity with a hand-written, naughty-or-nice scroll. He scans the list and calls out a child by name to come and sit on his lap.
“I talk about something on the list—both the naughty and the nice incidents—and they’re shocked,” Chuck said. “What they don’t know is I asked their parents beforehand to tell me something about their kids, so I have some background.”
As Mrs. Claus, Rose said it is unforgettable to see the awe in children’s eyes when they see Santa.
“They can hardly take their eyes off him,” she said. “Then there are some children who are afraid of Santa but willingly come to Mrs. Claus and stay on my lap until they warm up to Santa and move to his lap.”
Chuck’s sense of fun and philanthropy is a tenet of Shriners International, whose members belong to Helena’s Algeria Shrine Temple. He said he joined the local temple because he believes in what Shriners stand for—family, fraternity, fun, and philanthropy. To become a Shriner, applicants must be Freemasons and complete several requirements, including community service projects.
“Rose had worked at the Shriners office here, so I got to know the members before I joined,” he said. “I wanted to help our community.”
Helena Shriners community service projects include providing food during the holidays for Helena Food Share clients. Members also raise money for Shriners hospitals.
In Montana, the organization’s most recent project is a partnership between Shriners Hospitals for Children in Spokane and Montana Children’s Hospital in Kalispell. A Shriners medical team from Spokane will visit patients in Kalispell every other month, to treat children regardless of their ability to pay.
The Felters not only volunteer their time at Christmas, they donate year-round to their favorite local nonprofits—Big Brothers and Sisters of Helena, Helena Food Share, Intermountain Children’s Home, and the local Humane Society.
“We never had kids, so we have seven four-legged family members,” Chuck said. “We both like making a positive difference in our community all year long.” MSN