Janesville34.2°

Santa, Mrs. Claus working to spread joy

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
December 24, 2007
— What's a Santa without his missus?

Exactly, Steve and Sylvia Schneeberger say.


Bringing Santa to life is a his-and-her thing for this Evansville couple.


Steve became interested in playing the jolly, old elf after reading a December 2005 newspaper article about a Janesville man who received a diploma from a Santa school in Michigan.


By April, Steve was growing a beard.


His wife, Sylvia, also dreamed of bringing joy and laughter to people. She thought she'd like to be a clown.


"Instead of a clown, I'm Mrs. Claus, and we get to do it together," Sylvia said.


Some Santas are lucky to have elves.


Steve said he wouldn't be Santa without his wife.


"She is such an asset to what we do," Steve said.


Mrs. Claus is not a common commodity, so the Kris Kringle couple have become a great marketing tool.


Both Schneebergers have received diplomas from the Michigan Santa school.


For his day job, Steve trims his bushy beard when he travels to foreign embassies for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Madison.


As Mrs. Claus, Sylvia—she works at the M & I Bank in Evansville—lightens her hair and puts on wire rims, a white hat and bloomers. She carries a basket and wears a lace apron that Steve brought back from Belgium.


Sylvia has room to flesh out her character. Mrs. Claus' first name, for instance, has never been printed in literature. And during the couple's novice year, she was asked what it was.


"I just came up with Crystal Claus," she said.


The couple are getting good at thinking on their feet.


The pair continue to fine-tune their act.


Mrs. Santa keeps the tykes occupied when they get antsy waiting for a turn on Santa's lap. A favorite diversion is a lighted thumb. She tells the children she sneaked out Rudolph's nose.


Her calm voice and grandmotherly presence soothe jittery children who are not all that sure about Santa. Sometimes, a child is more comfortable sitting on Mrs. Claus' lap, and Santa will slip behind them for the requisite picture.


The couple have discovered that children are very interested in the reindeer, and the animals' whereabouts is the most-asked question.


They answer that the reindeer have magical powers only one night a year. Otherwise, Mr. and Mrs. Claus are left to hoof it in a vehicle.


This time of year, Steve usually wears red. With his bleached beard, flannel shirt and suspenders, he looks just like an off-duty Santa.


So, he carries a card for youngsters he sees pondering his true identity.


The card has a picture of himself in costume with his index finger to his lips. It reads, "Shhhhh … You just met Santa."


"Their faces, their eyes—they just glow," Steve said.


Once, in a Madison restaurant, a young boy at a nearby table kept leaning around his dad to stare at Steve.


"I finished my lunch, took my tray up and was throwing the garbage away," Steve said. "He (the boy) looked up, and all he said was, 'Where's your reindeer?'"


The couple take care not to wear red around their own young grandchildren to keep the myth alive for them, too.


The couple enjoy dispensing holiday joy.


"It brings joy to my heart that I'm doing this," Steve said. "We like to make people smile … and Santa always does that."


"Just bringing the spirit of Christmas into people's lives with Santa and Mrs. Claus keeps us going," Sylvia said.


CALL THE CLAUSES

To contact Steve or Sylvia Schneeberger, call them at their workshop at (608) 882-5259, or you can reach them on their sleigh at (608) 279-9826.



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