XENIA — As the first Santa and creator of Greene County Parks & Trails’ Santa’s Holiday in the Park in 1996, former park volunteer Chuck Routzohn will return for one night 22 years after his first appearance at the event.
“I’ve been portraying Santa Claus for almost 55 years all over Ohio and would never accept payment,” Routzohn, 83, said. “My payment is the child who smiles and laughs as well as the parents who can forget about their problems for a little while.”
A former resident of Amlin Heights in Xenia, Routzohn and his wife, Sharon, worked with GCP&T to create the first Santa’s Holiday in the Park at Sara Lee Arnovitz Park, 350 Kinsey Road. He provided the decorations for two bridges and some holiday figurines while Sharon offered hot chocolate and coffee.
The park agency expected about 30 people. Almost 250 turned out to visit with Santa on Dec. 24, 1996.
“We actually had a traffic jam on Kinsey Road with the rangers directing traffic,” Routzohn said.
A Greene County commissioner attended that first year, Routzohn said, and wanted assurances the event would happen every year.
Routzohn remembers ‘playing’ Santa for thousands of children and even horses, rabbits, cats and dogs.
One child asked if he would be Santa for her horse and brought him to James Ranch Park during the event.
Other memorable holiday visits included a little girl who leaped into his lap, pulled up her dress and shared, “I have real panties on; I’m a big girl now” while her parents laughed in the crowd.
Bittersweet memories include two little girls who wanted their house back as it had just burned to the ground. One young boy and young girl wanted their dad to get his stolen tools back so he could back to work.
Routzohn arranged for a local tool store to offer the man a discount to purchase his new tools.
After several years at Sara Lee Arnovitz Park, the event needed more space and relocated to Fairground Recreation Center. A few years later, Santa’s Holiday in the Park moved to its present location at James Ranch Park, 177 Fairground Road.
Retired from DP&L after 40 years, Routzohn also helped with the electrical needs for the event at their new locations.
The current location offered a 1800s home for Santa — and now Mrs. Claus — as well as additional space for holiday crafts and a holiday light show featuring thousands of twinkling displays.
Routzohn, who now lives in Washington C.H., will return as Santa on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at GCP&T’s Santa’s Holiday in the Park, to create even more lifelong memories.
“I still see grown adults who come up to me today and tell me they remember me being Santa Claus,” he said. “After all of these years, I know I still believe in Santa Claus.”