Chuck Card is leaving some big boots to fill.
For the past 28 years, Card — who once owned K&S Bootery in downtown Chippewa Falls — has been playing the part of Santa Claus.
But just as snow melts in spring, Card will disappear from the role at the end of the 2017 Christmas season — for the most part.
“It’s a big job,” the 82-year-old said Thursday at his home on Little Lake Wissota, several hours before making his Thursday-night rounds about downtown Chippewa Falls on foot, ringing his bells, checking to see who is being naughty or nice and handing out candy canes two days before his last appearance in Chippewa Falls’ Bridge to Wonderland Parade.
It’s also a job Card has loved for almost three decades as thousands of children — and even a few adults — have sat on his lap, shared their Christmas lists and posed for photos.
“Chuck is amazing,” said Teri Ouimette, executive director of Chippewa Falls Main Street. “He is at Santa’s House (the Rutledge Charities building from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) every Saturday, he does activities in Irvine Park. The guy is practically Santa day and night. We are so thankful we’ve had him for so long.”
Ironically, Card fell into the role of the jolly old elf by accident. “We had some trouble with Santa Clauses,” said Card, who filled in as Kris Kringle a few times before taking over the job permanently.
“I love children, I love Christmas and I love the community,” said Card, who also enjoys seeing all the smiling faces and people waving each year along the annual parade route.
The job officially starts the day after Thanksgiving with Santa’s arrival. This year St. Nick arrived in the Chippewa Falls Police Department’s parking scooter — complete with a red bow.
“We’ve had some (arrivals) that were really something,” Card said, chuckling as he recalled several past entries, one involving a magic box and another requiring a little help from the Chippewa Falls Fire Department. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
That said, there have been a few times over the years where ol’ Santa had to think quickly when children made their Christmas requests.
“I remember one child whose dad had died, and he wanted his dad back for Christmas,” Card recalled. “We got around that, but I don’t remember how.”
Another child asked Santa for some advice. His parents were separated, and both wanted their son with them on Christmas Eve.
Occasionally, children asked why Santa didn’t deliver everything on their lists from last year.
“I’ve told them we just couldn’t fit everything they and other kids wanted in the sleigh,” Card said.
Some years ago, a grocery store chain in Illinois tried to lure Card away during the Christmas season to play its Santa. Unsure how they got his name, Card declined.
In his role as Chippewa Falls’ Santa, Card has enlisted the help of his family. Some of their grandchildren, including J.J. and Alethea Fasbender, have played Santa’s elves. “They get a real charge out of it,” Card said. And his late wife, Charolene, used to help decorate Santa’s House.
Four women have played Card’s “work wife,” or Santa’s significant other, Mrs. Claus, over the years. Sandy Furst, who replaced Marie Meinen, had the role for 12 years before retiring.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Furst, who played the first lady of the North Pole for the last time during the 2015 Christmas season. “Chuck has always been so good with the kids. He’d take them on his lap and talk to them. I think people are going to miss him.”
Eleanore Stuttgen agreed. Several years ago, Stuttgen, a friend and dressmaker, made Card a red and white Santa suit.
“I have great admiration for that man,” said Stuttgen, who has known Card “for years and years.” “He has always done everything well. The question now is who can replace him as Santa?”
While he is retiring from most of his Kris Kringle commitments, Card said he expects he’ll continue to transform himself into St. Nick for the youth mentoring program he’s involved in.
“I’ve had a good run, and I’ll miss the people as much as they’ll miss me,” he said.
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