Once again, Sant and Mrs. Claus will be at Stowe Mercantile on Dec 2 from 12 to 3 pm . That’s the good news. The sad news is since this story originally ran in December 2016, Santa and Mrs. Claus have faced some hardships. Santa (Melvin Wells)’s partner, Lois Johnson, a volunteer in the Stowe public school system, has faced battled cancer four times and their house in Nebraska Valley burned down. If you’ve enjoyed this story or ever met Santa, please consider donating to a fund, Christmas for Santa, set up for the couple by Stowe’s John Dolan and read his letter to the community, below:
To contribute: GoFundMe.com/christmasforsanta or see other ways to give at the end of this page.
Santa drives a snowplow.
I know this for a fact: I’ve seen him.
A year after I moved back to Vermont I got my first glimpse of him. The snow had fallen heavily all night and, though it was December, it was already stacked high on the sides of the road.
I’d recently exchanged an apartment in Summerland, Calif., for a cabin at the end of Nebraska Valley in Moscow, Vt.. The address alone sounded redundantly cold and snowy. It was. The cabin was three miles up a dead end road in a narrow, dark valley. On one side, the dirt road dropped off steeply to a rushing brook. After a heavy snow, the hemlock and pine branches would bow down so low it was like driving through a tunnel to get home.
One early morning, I heard the plow grinding its way up the valley, orange lights reflecting off the snow that piled up before its blade.
It had snowed all night and hearing it, I smiled: It would be a powder day. There would be fresh tracks for those who got there first. I’d be there… if the road was plowed.
It was still dark and temperatures hovered around 10 when I bundled up and headed out. I was warming up the car when I saw him come back down the road just as the sky began to lighten. There he was, high up behind the wheel of the plow: an unmistakable white curly beard and wild hair. Rosy cheeks. Piercing blue eyes. No question, it was Santa.
He waved. I waved back. Then he was gone.
The next summer, strange things began to happen. I came back from a two-week vacation and my lawn had been mysteriously mowed. A month later, a mound of dirt and weeds that I’d been wanting to clear became a level parking area.
I called my neighbors, Mike and Sarah, and asked if they were responsible. “Not us,” Mike said. “Our lawn was mowed too.”
That Christmas, Mike and Sarah were home with their two-year-old son Sargent when Santa appeared, unannounced. It was Christmas morning when there was a knock on the door and there he was; barrel-chested with a pot belly, white beard, red velvet suit, boots, a cap and all. Over his back was a pillowcase stuffed with toys — including Sargent’s favorite, a toy chainsaw. And Mrs. Claus, dressed as you’d expect, was right behind.
Santa, it turned out, was our neighbor.
For 25 years Melvin Wells has worked for the town, plowing roads around Stowe. He and his partner, Lois Johnson, own a tract of land on our road and camp out there during the summer in their RV, returning to their home in Morrisville each winter.
Melvin’s resemblance to Santa Claus wasn’t lost on him.
For several years now he and Lois have played the part, dressing up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus to hand out gifts and listen to kids Christmas’ wishes at Veterans of Foreign War halls, hospitals, restaurants and pretty much wherever they are asked. “We sometimes make eight or nine stops in a row going all the way from Morrisville to Stowe,” Melvin says with a grin.
And though they are often offered money or asked what they charge, they have never taken a dime. “We do it because we love it,” says Lois, who is as convincing as Mrs. Claus as Melvin is in his role. Adding, “Santa would never take money.” In addition to all the regular gigs they do, they often choose a family or two who they know are in need and collect and deliver presents to them.
Perhaps their most enduring performance has been at Stowe Mercantile, in the heart of town in early December (December 2, this year). They’ve arrived by (plow-drawn) sleigh, they’ve received letters from kids, they’ve held countless of youngsters on their laps. And for every kid who visits Santa, the shop has donated $10 to go to the Lamoille County Food Share. Last year, the store donated more than $2,000.
This past year, Sargent was old enough to head down to the village to see Santa. It took some explaining that Santa didn’t always make house calls and didn’t always drive a snowplow.
The line was long, but Sargent peered past the crowd to catch a glimpse of the white-bearded man in the red suit. “Hey,” Sargent said in a loud voice as he pointed to the man with the kid in his lap, “that’s Melvin.”
There was a hush. Kids turned around. Parents frowned.
“Santa, Melvin—it’s kind of the same thing,” Mike whispered to his son.
That couldn’t be more true.
LETTER FROM JOHN DOLAN:
Christmas for Santa
Many of you may not know Melvin Wells by name but you probably know him by his ‘look’. Melvin works for the road crew in town and is Stowe’s own ‘Santa’. He has thick white hair, a matching beard and yes, a twinkle in his eye. He can be seen driving all of the maintenance vehicles that keep us safe and moving on with our daily routines.
Melvin’s partner, Lois Johnson, is a familiar presence in all of Stowe’s schools as a paid employee and dedicated volunteer for the past 9 years. She and Melvin volunteer their time as Mr. and Mrs. Claus visiting stores, families and children throughout the holiday season. They also welcome kids in Stowe to their home by the river to swim, play and enjoy the summer weather. Through it all, Lois has been battling cancer and has undergone four surgeries in the past few years.
On April 22, their house in Nebraska Valley burned to the ground. The fire started because of possible electrical causes. No one was home nor injured but the house was completely consumed.
While their home remains leveled because insurance paid off their previous mortgage but will not cover rebuilding costs at all, they both continue to serve the Stowe community–Lois at the Elementary school and Melvin continues his work plowing, salting, sanding, digging, grading, and most recently, cutting trees for us all. His job is tough and he needs to be available at all hours, day and night, every day of the year.
I walk my dog out that way often. I thought of all that they must now be dealing with and wondering how and when they would rebuild. I thought about how they work so crazy hard for us all year long. They are key members of our community. They should be able to rebuild and continue to live in town.
The town of Stowe is made up of people with different backgrounds, personalities and lifestyles. The diversity is a big part of what makes us a community. I, for one, don’t want to lose that as Stowe grows more and becomes more popular and expensive. I believe we want this dynamic to always be a part of the community and its tremendous charm.
As we enter the holiday season, it seems like a good time to come together and think about how to help those who help us throughout the year. I reached out to Melvin and Lois to meet them and ask about their situation and although they shy from asking for help themselves, a ‘passing of the hat’ would help them tremendously to get their house rebuilt. Similar to days of old when someone’s barn was burned down, townspeople gathered to rebuild it. I have never started a fundraising drive but thought we, as a town could pull together for Melvin and Lois (Mr. and Mrs. Claus) so they can continue to live and work here and also, so they know how much we appreciate them.
Please consider helping Mr. and Mrs. Claus rebuild their home in the North Pole (aka Nebraska Valley) by donating to them…$10, $50, $100—any amount is welcomed.
Log onto: GoFundMe.com/christmasforsanta
Drop off Cash or Check (made payable to Melvin Wells/Lois Johnson): c/o IShare/Image Outfitters, 132 Mountain Road.
(Please include your name and address so we know whom to thank!) And please have a very happy holiday season.
John FX Dolan