Santa makes first of many seasonal visits to Niles
By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Snow was the only thing missing when Santa came to town on Saturday.
But that minor detail didn't seem to discourage hundreds of children from showing up at the Riverfront Park Amphitheater to make their Christmas wish list known to the jolly ol' soul.
Accompanied by their parents, the children waited patiently in a line that stretched all the way to the Riverfront Park parking lot for a couple of hours after Santa Claus had arrived in a red fire truck, courtesy of the Niles City Fire Department.
When Santa had settled in a comfy chair on stage, the children one by one approached him and told him their Christmas wishes. Santa, with assistance from his elves, handed each child a coloring book and a candy cane.
Keith McMorris brought his daughter, Makayla, and his wife to the Riverfront Park on Saturday. The couple seemed to enjoy the attention Santa gave their daughter, who turns one year old in a couple of weeks.
McMorris said he thinks the event, which in the past was held at the Niles Amtrak Depot, is great for the children in this community. It's sponsored annually by the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce. "I like it, it's real nice for the kids to have something to do," he said.
Having met with Santa, the McMorrises, like so many other families who waited in line, stepped off stage and enjoyed free fresh donut holes and cider provided by the Chamber.
Ron Sather, the Chamber's president and CEO, has been with the Chamber for 10 years.
Sather said the Riverfront Park Amphitheater has become a perfect place for the event after the Amtrak station in Niles became too small for the number of people that showed up.
Sather said the annual event is the official kick-off for the holiday season here.
And, he said the event, which is in its 19th year, is a good way to bring people to the downtown area for some holiday season shopping.
Although many of the people who came to meet Santa on Saturday have done so in the past, some were new to the experience.
Doris Sallee came to see Santa in downtown Niles for the first time.
Sallee, who watched her granddaughter receive a coloring book and a candy cane from Santa, seemed to enjoy the event.
Elizabeth Garrett, one of Santa's elves this year, also volunteered at last year's event.
Glancing down at the long line of families who waited to get their turn with Santa, she said it seemed like there were more families this year than last year.
Sather, who thanks event sponsors for their contributions, said the event draws between 400 to 600 children depending on the weather.