Five years ago, when a friend approached Arlyn Grussing ’67 with a volunteer opportunity, he was a bit surprised. After all, none of his other work had required quite so much time in the company of elves.
Now, for five to six weeks every winter, Grussing listens to kids’ Christmas wish lists in the Eden Prairie Center, a shopping mall near Minneapolis, Minn. Kids all react differently to meeting Santa, he says. Some are nervous to meet the man who so closely scrutinizes their behavior all year. Others burst into tears in his lap. But most of the kids are just excited. “Some just about pop your head off when they jump into your lap,” Grussing says. “You get a lot of love as Santa Claus. That’s what Christmas is all about—the love. Santa represents that.”
Grussing has always loved working with kids. For years he was a youth football coach, and he has volunteered his time with children any way he could. “They’re our future,” Grussing says. “Kids are so willing to learn and so willing to accept new things.”
Though Santa is only on duty in November and December, Grussing starts preparing months earlier. In early April, he begins growing the trademark white beard. Adding all that facial hair is not a job he relishes, though. “I shave it off right after Christmas,” he says.
As the resident Santa Claus at a large shopping mall, Grussing also gets an inside look at the gifts kids want most. Not surprisingly, electronics top this year’s chart, he says. Many of the children want him to leave iPods or video game systems under their tree. With so many similar requests, it’s uplifting for a child to ask for one of the classics. “I really love it when a kid asks for a fire truck,” Grussing says.
Still, the most touching requests come from the occasional child who tells Santa they have enough toys and want to give theirs to someone who needs them more.
Grussing says the job also has some perks unique to a Central alumnus. “Now that I’m Santa, I get to wear red and white all the time,” he explains. “I’ve got the CUI fight song running through my head.”