Mayville man portrays Santa for nearly 50 years
Go to any holiday parade across the country and you’ll most likely see Santa Claus on the final float, waving to the crowd and wishing the boys and girls a Merry Christmas.
Melvin (Cookie) Collien has been that main man in Mayville for almost five decades.
“It all started my senior year of high school,” said Cookie. “I was sitting in my social studies class and the principal called me up to the office and I was thinking, ‘What on earth did I do wrong?’ I met with the principal and Frances Wondra, an older gentleman who was thinking about finishing out his years as Santa. They said I would be a perfect replacement and Frances said he would show me how.”
That’s all it took. Cookie went out and bought a suit, beard and wig.
“Frances and his wife came out to watch and helped by telling me what and what not to do. I tried it a few times to see if I would like it.”
Cookie, a lifelong Mayville resident, started portraying Father Christmas regularly when his children were little and has never stopped enjoying the job.
“I’ve done jobs in Horicon, Beaver Dam, Brownsville, Kekoskee, Hartford, Mayville, Fond du Lac, Theresa, Lomira, I even went down to Milwaukee,” he said.
A lot has changed since he first donned the red suit, but much remains the same.
“I always listen to what the children have to say and I tell them they have to be good.
“There hasn’t been a time when dolls weren’t on the wish lists. The doll that’s really hung on is the Barbie. Cabbage Patch dolls were hot for a while, but kids are still asking for Barbie today, along with the American Girl doll, and of course all clothes and accessories.”
“I don’t hear hardly any boys asking for trucks or tractors anymore. If they do ask, they want it to have a remote. When I first started out there were no Ipads, computers or electronics on the lists. GI Joe and Lincoln Logs were real popular then. Legos are high on the lists of both boys and girls the past five years or so.”
Cookie feels one of the rules to being a good Santa is to never promise anything and to always show the love you have in your heart. There have been some tough requests from the children who have sat on his lap through the decades.
“The hardest ones for me are when kids ask for things other than toys. I’ve had kids ask if I could bring their dad home from the service. They’ve asked if I could get their mom and dad to stop fighting or if I could get their parents back together again,” he recalled. “Those are rough and I could almost cry. I try to talk to them and help them through it.
On a lighter note, Cookie gets a kick out of answering questions from those who doubt he is truly Santa Claus.
“If a kid asks me if I’m real, I say, ‘What do you think?’ Sometimes they want proof so I tell them to watch real closely as I slap my belly. That usually makes them laugh.”
The boys and girls also commonly quiz Santa about where his reindeer are located and he’s ready with his answer.
“I have a farmer friend out on the (Horicon) marsh, he feeds them for me and then they rest. I borrow the farmer’s car when I come into town. When I’m done I go back out there and rattle my sleigh bells and Rudolph and the rest come and away we go.”
Cookie’s late wife Margaret never joined him as Mrs. Claus, but she enjoyed helping him get all decked out. His suits are tailor-made and his beard and wig are taken care of at a local salon. She also kept a large scrapbook of the generations of boys and girls who visited with Santa.
Being Santa certainly fills up the calendar each holiday season. He usually starts the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. He has 35 jobs this year in about 15 days. Cookie said his business is all done through word of mouth; he never once advertised his services in 49 years.
“I have all the engagement books from when I started from my first job. I never missed a job,” he said proudly. “I’m happy with my little business, I have fun with it and people are very nice to me.”
Cookie is pondering retirement, “The 49 years I’ve had were 49 beautiful years. I just love being with the kids and all the excitement. I hope I can do it next year and then I’ll have 50 years in -- that will be one of the happiest moments of my life.
One thing is for sure, his are some mighty big boots to fill.