A photo of December 1910 provided by the Washington County Historical Society shows a line outside a store in downtown West Bend when Santa came to visit.
The enthusiasm was evident by the long line. Records at the Washington County Historical Society show a kid’s Christmas party was held by downtown merchants nearly every year in the early 1900s.
Neighbors in West Bend also remember some of their visits to Santa.
Jacci Gambucci worked at Westfair Mall on S. Main St. “I didn’t visit with Santa but I remember him sitting in the lobby area near Nobil’s Shoes and Bresler’s 33 Flavors – later The Cookie Cone Cafe,” she said.
Lee Krueger lives on Little Cedar Lake. When he was growing up he’d go to Milwaukee with his mom, dad and sister on a special Saturday before Christmas and they’d see Billie the Brownie (WTMJ Radio) in the Christmas Parade and then shop at Schuster’s Department Store on 12th and Vliet Streets.
“The parade was made up of three or four decorated streetcars (yes, on rails) and a special last car, which was a flat car, carried Santa and his sleigh and reindeer,” said Krueger.
“In the late 1970s, my wife and I went to Northridge several times and in the early 1980s we went to the Grand Avenue Mall. Our four kids were always dressed up; shirts with collars and no T-shirts and jeans with no holes. We always got a family Santa picture; usually one child was crying or mad,” said Krueger.
Barb Justman from the town of Trenton said she used to drive her husband Homer around on Christmas Eve.
“He’d be dressed as Santa and we would go from house to house and I’d park the car, let him out and he’d walk to the window and scare the bahjeebese’s out of whoever was there.
“Then he’d go to the door, leave some candy canes and we’d move on to the next unexpecting soul,” said Justman.
“If people ever asked who he was, Homer would say, ‘I’m Santa Claus! HO HO HO!’”
Mike Paul of Kewaskum said his family would watch a movie at the now closed Kewaskum Theater.
“Killy Honeck owned it back then; now it’s Tom Kudek’s auto body shop and there’s a tattoo parlor in front,” said Paul.
After the movie Santa would come riding into town on the Civil Defense fire truck. “Just like he does in all the traditional German Christmas tales,” said Paul.
The fire truck would drop him off at Rosenheimer’s General Store, currently the Antique Mall, and he would set up court on the second floor.
“The second floor was rarely open to the public, or at least kids, so it was a big deal just to stand in line and look at all the stuff,” said Paul.
“After waiting in line fooorreeeevveerr, we’d sit on Santa’s lap and do some horse trading. “Reasonably good behavior for a Hot Wheels race set with the rechargeable cars; stuff like that,” said Paul.
Some years Mrs.Paul would load all four of kids into dad’s Bell Telephone work van.
“There were no passenger seats or seat belts but lots of cool tools,” said Paul.
“Dad would drop us off at the Chicago Northwestern depot in West Bend and we’d take the passenger train down to Milwaukee, catch a bus to a downtown department store and do the big city routine. This was in the late 60s, early 70s,” he said.