I swear. Every single one of you better go dig up your own version of this photo. I know you have at least one. Send 'em over. We'll post them.
This is me - Kristina Michele Frazier and my best friend Babette. Now, I don't remember Babette's last name and honestly, I haven't seen her since 1971. I met her when we were living in an apartment building (managed by my grandparents) on Clay Street. I *think* I've marked the right location (or close enough). It was demolished many years ago.
If you lived in or near FW during this time period, you could count on a couple of traditions.
- Your mom, dragging you downtown for a picture with Santa.
- Standing in line to get that picture of Santa.
- Getting tired of standing in that line for that picture with Santa.
I don't know what anyone elses experience was but it's not like Santa and I carried on these deep, meaningful conversations. Everything was about "the picture". You weren't there to discuss a list or to ask how Rudolph was doing. The Christmas machine at Ayres (I think that's what it was by then) was all about moving you through that line.
Your picture would come in a bi-fold, Christmas-card like holder. When you opened it up, your picture was framed by paper and you could lift up the flap to pull your picture out. If you did that though, you found out that you were 'just' a number. gasp!
To his credit, Santa always tried to be pleasant about the thirty million pictures he had to sit for every holiday season. He would always greet you with a hello there. Although we didn't discuss my angst over toys or world hunger, I was always in awe of him. He was tall and very knowing-looking. *****************************************************
You probably, that the man behind the suit was Fort Wayne's own Phil Steigerwald. It wasn't until years later, that I found out that my Santa was an important man (beyond the obvious!) in our community.
Oh yeah! Mr. Steigerwald was a talented vocalist (even singing the national anthem at the annual Fourth of July fireworks display when it was held at McMillen Park). He also owned his own reality gig (Fairfield Realtors), represented the 5th District on City Council in the 1960s and 1970s, and served as the treasurer of the Allen County Republican Party.
Did you know that he first started his Santa role in 1942? Mr. Steigerwald was just a sophomore at South Side High School when he was first asked to dress up as the jolly guy.
And my perception of his awe-inspiring presence? Wasn't just my imagination. He stood at 6 feet, 2 inches tall.
If you remember the Sears Department Store on Rudisill - that's where he began enchanting the children of Fort Wayne. He eventually moved to the Wolf & Dessauer Department Store (downtown) and when L.S. Ayres purchased W & D, our Santa stayed put. So what if the store had a different name. Santa was a steady presence for the young and old.
Sadly, our Santa died in January 2004 at the age of 76 from complications due to diabetes. I have to wonder - will any other Santa be able to emerge and capture the hearts of the Fort Wayne community? Those big, coal-black colored boots will be pretty hard to fill.