Arlyn Grussing, “Santa Arlyn”
Santa’s North Pole Experience, Eden Prairie MN
Santa in Senior Living?!
After raising a family and wrapping up careers in the Bloomington area followed by 15 years of being Father Christmas to thousands of kids “Santa and Mrs. Claus (Arlyn and Bonnie Grussing)”, at age 78, are enjoying the benefits of senior living at Amira Choice Bloomington. Bonnie had a surgery followed by transitional care at Masonic Home in late 2022. Her need for physical supports were served by respite initially while Arlyn was on Santa duty last year.
After Santa season Bonnie told Arlyn she enjoyed Amira so much she wanted to stay. So, the condo went up for sale and they have been settling in together at Amira since February. Their kids are nearby and dropping in often. And now Arlyn is heading into Santa season with the confidence of knowing the assistance allows Bonnie to be safe and sound while he’s out delivering toys.
Santa will be dropping in on the Amira book club December 16th to read his book, Santa’s Magic Christmas. He will also be at their Christmas Party December 19th in addition to his regular duties. Following is how it all came about…
A Stranger, A Mall And A Mission
Arlyn was coaxed into trying Santa by an acquaintance at a craft festival in 2008 who insisted after knowing him all of an hour that he had the magic in him. While Arlyn wasn’t sure how this stranger could devine his fate (Arlyn’s face was clean shaven after all!) the stranger finally said “Look, just don’t shave for a month and then give me a call.” (I wonder if the stranger’s name was Clarence?) Of course it came to pass. His first year was an eye opener in a tough part of town, but he was hooked. Being a true “creative” in other ways he knew how to go with the flow.
The next stop was another shopping center for a few years. It turned out to be more about the numbers than the kids. Being pure of heart Arlyn decided to do his own solo event focused just on the kids. He was told by several that it would not work. Well, that was all it took!
In 2013 Arlyn searched out the historic Cummins Phipps Grill House – 1858 – in Eden Prairie, which is on the historical register. With his Santa charm, and maybe a little magic dust, he struck a deal with the Eden Prairie Historical Society. Though it was not financially suitable in the beginning, they rented reindeer for a couple years and decorated to the hilt to really set a scene.
After ten years at the Cummins house, it is no longer referred to around town as ‘the haunted house’. Today it is known as the Santa House and the month long event draws 4,000 visitors by appointment for their individual time with Ol’ Santa, and pictures of course.
The Christ Child, Kids And Questions
Arlyn always holds fast to acknowledging the reason for the season to start. He also upholds his loyalty to the kids and answering their questions. Oh, so many questions! That honor and devotion led to his publishing Santa’s Magic Christmas in 2017. There he created the model to answer all those Christmas questions. Four magic dusts: Red, Yellow, Blue and Green.
Santa Is Most Certainly a Caregiver
It’s not in the usual elder care sense, but Santa gives care. For parents it’s preemptive respite care in Santa inspiring kids’ good behavior through the wait for presents. And Santa can uplift the occasional heavy heart at this time of year. During Arlyn’s first Santa stint 15 years ago, at a shopping mall, while taking a break he noticed a young woman sitting alone and distressed. He sat beside her and asked how she was doing. She confessed to having the worst thoughts and thinking of not wanting to go on. He gave her his undivided attention and helped her find a way to look up in that moment.
Assisted Living Loves Santa Too
Also in 2017, Arlyn began providing his Santa to a few senior living communities. While the seniors don’t sit on Santa’s lap it is always a positive experience if only standing together. Many in their 70s and beyond didn’t have these kind of Santa sessions when they were little kids, so it can be an exciting novelty. For folks with Alzheimers, it can be a conduit to accessing old memories to be recalled and enjoyed. And occasionally it draws their own little inner-kid to come out for a bit.
Gifts Of The Season
Arlyn very intentionally asks “What would you like for Christmas?” rather than what they want. It keeps the door open wider for requests other than material things. While there are many standard questions and standard answers, i.e. no promises of pets or college tuition, there is occasionally an exchange that gives pause.
It was a six year old girl once that slayed Arlyn by responding to the question with “I wish every grave could have a flower on it at Christmas.” He was speechless. After simply looking at one another in silence for some moments he managed to respond “…That is the nicest thing anyone has ever asked for.”
“Arlyn shares his gifts of kindness, love for all, and spreading the joy of Christmas. His “Old Fashioned Christmas” gives a real sense of what it’s meant to be. For over 10 years it has been a true pleasure to have Arlyn in the house! He is tender-hearted and always uplifting. Many families return each year as their children truly love him!”
Kathie Case, President Eden Prairie Historical Society