Parks staff opens Santa’s switchboard

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published November 22, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 21, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Junior Rodemeyer will be one of the Hot Springs Parks and Recreation members playing Santa or Mrs. Claus and calling children to give them Christmas wishes.

— Members of the Hot Springs Parks and Recreation Department are making a list of children in the area and passing it along to Santa.

They will be checking it more than twice, but they are not asking if the children have been naughty or nice. Instead, the staff will gather information from parents so children can receive a special call from the North Pole.

When the little ones are handed the phone, they’ll be greeted by Mrs. Clause or by Santa himself.

“It is our way of getting everyone into the Christmas spirit,” said Junior Rodemeyer, recreation supervisor with the parks department. “I’m sure it makes us feel good, and I hope it makes Christmas even better for the kids.”

This is Rodemeyer’s first year to take part in Santa’s Switchboard, although he worked on a similar project in Arkadelphia last year. This is the 11th year the parks department has opened the special switchboard to the North Pole for Hot Springs children, said Jean Wallace, director of the department.

The calls will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5, and there will be calls on Dec. 6 to children who were missed the other two nights.

“Every year, the call volume has gone up,” Wallace said. “Last year, there were requests to call 532 children; that was about 110 more than the year before.”

However, only 296 children were reached after three nights of calling.

“We got a lot of answering machines, so letters from Santa were mailed to 236 children,” Wallace said.

Parents who would like to have their children receive a call may fill out a Santa’s Switchboard form and turn it in to the Parks and Recreation Department office at 111 Opera St. no later than Nov. 30. The registration form is also available online at www.cityhs.net.

Rodemeyer said pamphlets on the program, including a sign-up sheet, will be

distributed in area schools before the Thanksgiving holidays.

The sheet asks for information about the children, provided by their parents. The information will include the children’s friends’ and pets’ names, their school and teachers, and other details that ad magic to Santa’s call.

“The program is designed for preschool to second grade,” he said. “Any younger than 4, and the kid night not understand, and much older than 7, they get too skeptical.”

The Santa callers also have a “cheat sheet” that includes the names of Santa’s eight reindeer, and suggestions on how to handle some of the tough questions from children.

“If they say, ‘Santa, I wrote you a letter,’ we can say, ‘The elves must have it,’” Rodemeyer said.

He said he has heard of a 6-year-old boy who was talking to Santa last year who said he “really, really wanted to come live with Santa at the North Pole.”

“That kind of thing’s cute, but it touches your heart,” Rodemeyer said.

Members of the parks department and volunteers from the Hot Springs Friends of the Parks organization will be making the calls. They need additional volunteers from other city departments, civic groups and anyone else who might be able to help.

The parks department has a tradition of serving cookies and hot chocolate during the calling nights, along with providing Santa hats, jingle bells and Christmas-light necklaces to the volunteers. In addition, two local restaurants, Chick-fil-A and Belle Arti, will each bring dinner one night to the volunteers.

“The bells and toys help get [callers] into the holiday spirit and provide the right background noise for the calls,” Rodemeyer said. “We want it to sound like Santa’s calling from the workshop, where they are busy making toys.”

Santa’s Switchboard was the idea of Bea Arline, a former recreation superintendent for the parks department. She had helped with a similar program in Virginia.

Those who want to volunteer and join the switchboard team are asked to call Tonya Cochran at the Hot Springs Parks and Recreation Department at (501) 321-6871 for more information.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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