Faithful volunteers launch St. Nick

Published 8:12 am Monday, December 5, 2005

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Santa Claus has come to town and for the 43rd year is making his home on the St. Joseph River.
Sunday afternoon, a group of volunteers launched the popular holiday decoration and anchored it at the Broadway bridge for citizens of the community to enjoy.
Mike Peters, Larry Pickles, Tom Bonner, Dale Pebbles, Jimmy Brawley and Matt Brawley braved the cold weather - as they do every year - to bring a little more holiday spirit to not only residents passing by, but the patients at the hospital as well.
This year's float features a newly-painted white picket fence, new red lights along the sleigh, which replace the multi-color ones from years past, and a 15-foot Christmas tree, which was donated by Don Wroblewski.
The children's wing at Lakeland Hospital faces the bridge and the spot where Santa is set up, making it very easy for children to see the float when they have to stay in for the holidays.
Another new attraction the group is hoping for next year is a new set of reindeer, as the old ones have seen better days. The antlers had to be rebuilt this year and a few of them are missing ears, but overall everyone was pleased with the way the float looks again this year.
Another thing they are pleased with is the fact that there were no complications, as the group has seen their fair share of problems.
Things that include the time a few of the guys fell through the wood on the float, one guy was stranded on the raft as it floated all the way down to the railroad bridge and the time that half of the lights on the float didn't work after it was in the water.
Launching Santa isn't a five minute job. A lot of preparation goes into getting it ready for its month long stay on the river.
Most of the lights and decorations are set up before it goes in the water. When the raft finally is launced, a small boat pulls it to its location, where the tree is finished, the cable and electrical wires are hooked up and any final touches are made.
Peters' father, Roy, started the Santa on the River in 1962 with the help of Pete Williams, Willy Huss and Hank Hansen. The original Santa featured a lighted sleigh with two reindeer, which pulled a raft with a 20-30 foot tree on it.
With the difficulty of a tree that big and the age of the decorations, a new float had to be built in 1994, which is the float we see today.
The Niles Service League is excited to announce they once again have their Santa on the River Christmas ornaments in stock. The sixth ornament in the service league's series features the Santa Claus raft and the Main Street Bridge.
The ornaments, which cost $25, are available at Rana's New Generation Hair Salon, Majerek's Hallmark Readers World, East Main Gardens Florists and William's Do it Best Lumber. They are also available by calling Melanie Bizo at (269) 687-0576.
The volunteers would like to thank Williams Lumber for the hardware and miscellanious items and John and Chris Schrader and their crew from Schrader Fabrications for their manufacturing of the new tree stand.