WALL-TO-WALL SANTAS IN SHARPSVILLE
Sharpsville’s unique Santa program is a favorite among our small town stories and for good reason. This annual event held by the Sharpsville Service Club since 1947 projects the sentiments of the season: kindness, generosity, and hope. It’s encouraging to know that, after approximately 70 years, this simple homegrown tradition continues. According to Ralph C. Mehler, board member of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society and a former Santa helper, “participation — both in terms of number of Santas as well as homes and kids visited — has been pretty steady over the last 15 or so years.”
The following account of the Santas’ pre-Christmas-Day visits comes from a PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville – Then & Now” by Gail Nitch Hanes. She researched, wrote and distributed CDs of the presentation as a gift to the Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at their 50th reunion. (Gail was the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years, from 2004 to 2014).
A BELOVED MEMORY FROM OUR PAST…
Who of us could ever forget how very special Christmas was during our youngest years growing up in Sharpsville? Our hometown was, and still is, the ONLY town around here where Santa Claus visits each child right before Christmas. He even knows their names and ages. He arrives with his pack full of popcorn balls and sometimes even an ”early” present, with a reminder –”don’t forget to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so I can deliver the rest of your presents.” How awestruck we were to think that Santa made a special visit to us. Little did we know then just how Santa came to make those visits.
It all began in 1943 when George Mahaney Jr., a Sharpsville attorney, asked his friend Sid Owen to ”play Santa” for his children. Well, Sid was such a big hit with Mahaney’s children that he was asked by neighbors to drop in to visit their homes as well that night. The following year, both he and George dressed in the red suits and visited even more homes. By 1947-48 there were so many homes and children to visit, Mr. Mahaney recruited members of the Sharpsville Service Club to assume ”Santa duty,” which began our town’ s most beloved tradition. This year  marks 71 consecutive years that Service Club members dress in their red and white suits and, with the help of their special ”elves,” scatter throughout the Borough on December 23rd bringing smiles and the Christmas spirit to the children and their families. And they are all volunteers!
Of course, all this does not just happen; it requires extensive organizational work behind the scenes well before the holiday season. Routes must be designated and mapped out with house numbers; a timetable must be established, and most importantly, Santas must be conﬁrmed, with ”elves” assigned to help each one. The afternoon/early evening of the big day, the men gather inside ”Santa’s headquarters” to begin the transformation from citizen to Santa: sitting in the make-up chair while white cream is smudged into their eyebrows and blush is rolled onto their pink cheeks; putting on their ”Santa hair and beard” and, last but not least, donning the famous red and white suit with the big black belt and special black boots — black liners with fur around the top. [They have to keep their feet warm for all the walking they’ll be doing].
When everyone is suited up and the room is wall-to-wall Santas, it gets a little loud when they begin to belt out their ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” They swap stories of past Christmases and the children they’ve met, especially those little ones who ask Santa the tough questions. They have to be ready to answer unique and oftentimes surprising questions from the children without missing a beat; after all, Santa knows everything. They also must be prepared to run the full gamut of emotions depending on family circumstances — from the happiest to the very saddest and neediest.
As children, most of us were unaware of how the entire process worked. We were told that Santa might make a ”special visit” to make sure we’re being good and to remind us to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so he could deliver all our presents while we were asleep. What we didn’t know was that in order for ”Santa” to know which homes to visit, porch lights were turned on — to light his way. Then there would be a lot of whispering among the adults [about what we had no clue] in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Meanwhile, at some homes, a note would be taped to the front door with the names and ages of the children in the family, along with any early presents Santa was to give. Santa’s helper would quietly retrieve the note and put the gifts in Santa’s pack. Then, the sound of sleigh bells would fill the air as Santa approached with his hearty ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” What treasured times those were!
And the tradition continues every Christmas season from one generation to the next. Even families who don’t live in Sharpsville gather at a relative’s home so their children can experience that magical moment when Santa calls them by name and they sit on his lap one more time right before Christmas. Even as adults, we still look forward to Santa’s annual visit too. Now it’s extra special because we share it with not only our children but our grandchildren and perhaps even great-grandchildren.
Sharpsville is transformed into a truly magical place every Christmas, thanks to this extraordinary group of people whose dedication to the tradition of Santa visiting every home will continue far into the future.
Thank you, Sharpsville Service Club members and helpers! [Donations to their cause are always welcome.]
— Gail Nitch Hanes, Southington, OH – Sharpsville High School 1964
“Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.