‘Breakfast with Santa’ team brightens kids’ holidays for more than 20 years
You can find Santas all over at shops and malls in the weeks before Christmas. But, as a child informed Argonne retiree Patricia Gajewski, those Santas aren’t real. How could they be? “At malls there’s a different Santa every year,” Gajewski says. No, the real Santa and the real Mrs. Claus arrive by fire truck to visit children at Argonne’s December Breakfast with Santa — they are the same from year to year. And in fact, for more than 20 years, they have been Ms. Gajewski, who retired in 2008 as a supervisor of receiving, stores, shipping, inventory and the Argonne mailroom, and Steven Hanuska, who has been a manufacturing engineer at the Advanced Photon Source for 27 years.
“These two have been doing this for many years without most people knowing that they are employees,” says Todd Hayden, president of the Argonne Club, which puts on the breakfast. “They make this event special. My two kids have grown up coming here and these are the real Mr. and Mrs. Claus to them.”
Even Steven Hanuska’s own now-grown-up children were convinced he was Santa. “My oldest kid was probably ten years old before he knew it was me,” he says.
Hanuska and Gajewski both enjoy the children, and working together. “Our camaraderie makes it much easier,” Hanuska says. They have developed communication and teamwork to manage their sometimes over-excited visitors. “I can only guess that they have posed for six or seven thousand pictures in the years that they have been doing this,” says Hayden. “They know exactly what it takes to get kids to sit for a picture.”
There has been the occasional painful experience. One child tried with particular vigor to pull off Hanuska’s beard, which he begins growing in late summer to be ready for his Santa gig. But mainly the day is fun and even moving. Hanuska recalls an Argonne postdoc who came as a child to sit on his lap. One year he gave Santa and Mrs. Claus a bound photo album of the photos they had taken together each year, and then added a new one of his own young child sitting on Santa’s lap. “I had two generations of kids from that family sitting on my lap,” Hanuska says. “That is fulfilling.”
Both Hanuska and Gajewski plan to continue as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. “I still have a connection with Argonne,” Gajewski says. “I tell my husband we will never travel that first week in December. I’ll do it until they don’t want me or I can’t do it any more.” Besides missing the kids, she would hate to give up her annual ride in the fire truck.
By Carla Reiter