The Kent County Community School got a special visitor from the North Pole the morning of Dec. 18 as Santa Claus arrived to listen to Christmas wishes from the students.
The visit was arranged by the American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2 Riders, who accompanied Old Saint Nick, aka Air Force veteran Danny Seeman, to the school on their motorcycles. It was a mixture of riding leather and fur-trimmed hats as Santa pulled up in a specially-built sleigh, drawn not by eight tiny reindeer but a purple Honda Gullwing trike.
The fact that Rudolph and his antlered friends were no-shows didn't seem to matter to the students, who crowded around Santa, some of them beaming huge smiles, others seemingly so shy they only would reach out gingerly touch Jolly Old Elf's bright red suit and white fur cuffs.
Santa took the hubbub in stride, greeting the children with hugs and laughter before being escorted inside to talk to each child, one on one.
It was a singularly unique day at the school, which serves area children with significant disabilities, said Principal Christopher Lehman.
“This is a day for the kids, more than anything,” Lehman said. “You can see it in their faces. The presence of someone like Santa Claus brings out more smiles, more eye contact.”
“They see him on TV or at the mall, but now he's right here,” he added. “It's like you or me meeting a favorite football player and making a connection with him. This makes it real.”
The Legion Riders have been bringing Santa to KCCS for the past seven years. Up until now, Saint Nick always arrived astride his own bright red Harley Davidson, but this year the Riders decided to make things a little more traditional.
Santa's sleigh was built by Rider Steve “Skip” Chappee, using a standard utility trailer as a base, plus liberal applications of imagination and elbow grease.
“We came up with the idea, but when we went to buy the plans, we found out they cost at least $150,” he said. “I said, just give me a couple of pictures of a sleigh, and I started cutting and sawing.”
All told, everything going into Santa's ride cost about $250. The Riders plan to make some additional improvements before next Christmas.
And while it was a significant day for the students at KCCS, it also was special for Seeman and his fellow Legionnaires.
“You know,” he said. “I can be having a bad day, and then I see the expressions on their faces and it just changes my whole outlook.”
“It's not about us,” said fellow Legion Rider retired Chief Master Sgt. Jon Andrews. “It's all about the kids.”