Lights flashed on the buildings of downtown Elgin as children began to squeal with excitement as they waited for Santa to arrive on his “sleigh,” aka the city ambulance.
Inside was the infamous Santa Claus, waving as he rounded the corner for another year of bringing Christmas cheer to Elgin families.
In Elgin, it’s not just the jolly old elf who is well known, it’s also the man who has worn the suit for nearly a half century — Mike Schmitt.
Schmitt still remembers the first time he donned the red suit in Elgin. Stepping onto the street for the first time as a mere 21-year-old, Schmitt found himself thinking “What have I gotten myself into?” not knowing the memories this suit would have to tell in years to come.
From a Santa suit to the family business of Schmitt Construction, he found himself following in much of his father’s footsteps after tragically losing his dad to a heart attack. Despite his young age, Schmitt accepted each role confidently and has grown both throughout the years.
Having been raised in Elgin, Schmitt knew he had an important role to play in the community serving as the town mayor, participating in multiple committees and doing whatever he can to help out the local children.
“I really enjoy all of it. I love kids and whatever I can do to help, I’ll do it,” he said.
Being the town’s Santa is undoubtedly one of his most treasured roles in the community. Schmitt loves getting to know the local kids while putting smiles on many of their faces, despite the few tears shed each year.
Schmitt explained, “Of course you’ve got your few that are criers. They want nothing to do with Santa. And mom and dad want that picture taken. So, it’s about like hanging onto a tiger.”
Every year, hundreds of parents bring their children to see Schmitt at the Christmas Kickoff in Elgin, just like their parents did when they were younger. Building a relationship with the local families has been one of Schmitt’s favorite part of being Santa.
Smiles from children light up the room as they excitedly run to their parents saying, “Santa told me that when you were younger. . .”
But it doesn’t stop there. Adding a personal touch to the experience, Schmitt enjoys sharing stories about the children’s parents getting many laughs from community members standing by.
“A lot of the people that bring their kids in now, I had them when they were little. So, I always get to tell stories to their kids about them. Of course, sometimes the parents laugh, and then the next time they get a little irritated with me. But, that’s alright. I still do it,” he said.
Schmitt takes his role as Santa seriously, making sure to refresh his memory by looking through recent catalogs and ensuring that every child in the community has a chance to visit Santa.
Chiming in, Schmitt’s wife, Janet explained that he has a big heart for the local kids making sure that each of them gets a chance to visit with Santa.
Visiting those with illnesses and even taking requests for a visit on Christmas Eve, Schmitt makes sure to spread Christmas cheer.
“Whenever I can put a smile on somebody’s face,” Schmitt said. “If they ask me to do it, I’ll be glad to do it.”