Geneva’s Santa House, which helps create memories for thousands of children around Christmas time, just happened to be out of storage recently when Geneva Fire Chief Steve Olson noticed something was wrong.
He might not have seen it if the Santa House wasn’t out in the open. It’s usually stored at the city’s public works building.
“For some reason, it had been pulled out to make room for something else,” Olson said. “Deputy Chief (Jerry) Koster and I were out there and we both noticed there was some damage to the roof.”
The two started talking about what to do and Olson later asked Geneva firefighter Rod Johnson for his opinion because he knew he repairs roofs on the side.
Johnson told Olson the Santa House definitely needed to be repaired.
Word quickly spread throughout the fire department and on Oct. 27, about 25 off-duty members volunteered their time to do what they can to repair the roof and add other improvements to the Santa House.
“Some were making cuts, some were nailing, some carried lumber,” Olson said. “Everybody pitched in.”
The Santa House opens during the Geneva Christmas Walk, which is on Dec. 7 this year.
More than 20,000 people on average attend the event.
Then for about two weeks, children can visit Santa in downtown Geneva during special hours.
“It’s not the mall Santa,” said Laura Rush, spokeswoman for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce which sponsors the Santa House. “To many children, that is (really) Santa. We take great pride in saying we do have the real Santa.”
Rush grew up in Geneva and remembers visiting Santa here.
She estimated the Santa House is about 50 years old and it has undergone periodic repairs and renovations throughout the years.
Olson also grew up in Geneva and remembers the Santa House as an integral part of the city’s tradition.
“It’s just something you do as a kid growing up,” Olson said.
However, many of the Geneva firefighters who volunteered to repair the Santa House don’t live in Geneva but could understand how important it meant to the city’s holiday cheer.
Johnson helped coordinate the repair to the roof. He said the pitch was very shallow, so it had to be completely redesigned.
A deeper pitch helps keeps water and snow from accumulating on the roof.
He knew he had enough volunteers, but he needed materials.
Johnson spoke with the Geneva Home Depot manager, Louis George, who agreed to ask his corporate office if they can help in any way.
“They were willing to donate anything they had in stock,” Johnson said.
He said the volunteers were excited to help in any way they could.
“Had it not been for all the guys of the fire department, this wouldn’t have happened,” Johnson said.
In addition to the new roof, Carlson’s Flooring in Geneva also donated new carpeting.
“It looks absolutely gorgeous,” Rush said.
Although Johnson doesn’t live in Geneva, he said he’ll likely bring his 10-year-old and 12-year-old boys to the Santa House this year to the fire department’s work.
“I’m excited to see how it looks in front of the courthouse,” Johnson said.