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Celebrating 40 years of Dear Santa. . .

The Central Oregonian has been printing elementary age letters to Santa since 1972

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN -

In 1972, the Central Oregonian decided to give local children a new forum for relaying their Christmas wishes by publishing their letters to Santa Claus.
   About 10 children took advantage of the opportunity that first year, and a variety of requests and appeals ensued.
   During that first year, for example, Glen Gray gave Saint Nicolas several options from a numerated list. “I would like you to bring me one of the following toys for Christmas,” he wrote. “1) I would like a organ. 2) I would like a Boxing Gloves. 3) I would like a pool table. 4) I would like a drum. 5) I would like a guitar. 6) I would like a gun.”
   Susan Ryan took the opportunity to make her case for a good present. “I have been a very good girl,” she pointed out in her letter. “I have helped Mommy around the house. I have made my bed. I have dried the dishes for my Mommy and so on.”
   Some children sought to satisfy their sweet tooth, with one child asking for a candy cane and another desiring Santa to deliver them a cotton candy machine. Other requests like record players and Raggedy Ann dolls provide a glimpse into the popular items of that time.
   Forty years later, the tradition has endured, and now includes all three Prineville elementary schools, kindergarten through third grade and several others including Paulina and Powell Butte. Instead of 10 letters, the Central Oregonian now publishes about 700.
   Recent Crook County High School graduate Dakota Fuller has typed letters to Santa for the newspaper for the past four years. She figures the task takes her about 20 total hours over a span of about two weeks. It may be a lot of work, but Fuller truly enjoys the job.
   “A lot of them, they are funny,” she said. “I have noticed, if you get a class, they all seem to ask for the same thing, even if it is an oddball thing. One class, the entire class asked for a pogo stick, probably because one kid had the idea that they wanted a pogo stick and every other kid was like, ‘Hey, I didn’t think of that.’”
   Children pose questions as well. Fuller has read letters that ask whether Rudolph’s nose is working or how reindeer fly. Some children want to know if Santa has ever gotten stuck in a chimney or if Mrs. Claus has a child.
   Fuller also enjoys the ways that children spell and handwrite their requests, which the Central Oregonian publishes unedited. For example, one letter from a Cecil Sly Elementary School second-graders asks for “a gutar and miker phon.”
   Being a stickler for proper spelling and punctuation, Fuller sometimes struggles to leave the letters in their original format.
   “I have to go back and correct myself for correcting them.”
   Central Oregon Senior Designer Dena Marshall has either typed the letters or designed the Letters to Santa section for the past 13 years. Having read thousands of letters, the ones that stand out typically include requests that don’t come from a store or carry a price tag.
   “You always remember when they ask for their mommy and daddy to be together, or when they ask for their grandparents not to be sick anymore,” she said.
   Of course, children also ask for the popular toy of the moment. Avengers and Transformers-related toys frequently made the list this year, along with more expensive gadgets like XBOX 360 video game systems or iPods.
   While Marshall and Fuller see the letters before anyone else at the Central Oregonian does, the local elementary school teachers witness the children compile their list — and they pitch in as needed.
   Shellie Currier, who teaches first grade at Ochoco Elementary School, typically helps her students get started by compiling a class-wide list of potential presents beforehand. During her 16 years of teaching in Prineville, she remembers one little boy asking for a new brother or sister. This year also included a few other unique ideas.
   “I had a request for a puppy with a bow on its back,” Currier said. “I had one this year, also, for a live turtle.”
   Not surprisingly, the children relish the break from everyday school work, and eagerly embrace the opportunity to actually write a letter to Santa Claus.
   “Sometimes, kids have trouble finishing work,” Currier said. “This is the one thing that we never have to harp on them to finish.”