John Aunspaw

NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 11-29-06, By Rebecca Turman

``City to light up the weekend with Santa and shops

AVON -- Candles will be a glow this weekend in Avon, and not because of any expected power outages. Dec. 1-3 [2006] will be the city's official Candlelite Walk weekend in the French Creek District, a tradition that has been blazing bright in the community for more than 25 years.

According to Lois Shinko, an Avon resident and owner of Countryside Antiques, this is the 27th year that the candle celebration has kicked off the holiday season. "We just decided to do it -- line the streets with candles," Shinko said. "Years ago we had horses and carriages. My kids were little elves and reindeers. They are married now, but maybe I'll get their kids to do it," she said with a chuckle ...

According to Avon resident John Aunspaw, the Christmas tradition came to be more than 27 years ago. Aunspaw has been the official Candlelite Walk Santa Claus since the event began, when he was in his late 20s. Now in his 60s, Aunspaw said the weekend originally began with the Lions Club, where he has a membership.

"The original concept was that we would go down and get the children from the Wayside and bring them to [the Old Town Hall of 1871] to do a Christmas lighting on the outside," Aunspaw said. "Then the antique people got the Candlelite Walk started."

Each year, in the spirit of good ol' Saint Nick, Aunspaw said he transforms into another person when he puts on the jolly red suit and white beard. "I put the clothes on, get on the sleigh and something does happen," Aunspaw said. "It's a magical night."

The same weekend of the Candlelite Walk, Aunspaw always takes his Santa act to area nursing homes to "spread a little joy," he said. "They know there's no Santa, but you'd be surprised how happy and excited they get," he said.

Reaching out to adults and children in the nursing home always leaves an impact on Aunspaw, he said. "It's amazing how it touches you," he said, adding that when his children were little he would always go straight home from the nursing home and hold them, counting his blessings that his family was well.

During his decades of playing Santa Claus there are many fond memories that stick out in Aunspaw's mind. "It's a fun-filled job," Aunspaw said. "It's very unusual." With more than 100 kids lining up to tell Santa their wish list each year, Aunspaw said he doesn't get a lot of one-on-one time with each individual child, which works out well, because he said their attention spans are pretty short anyway.

"It's a lot of work because the kids are shy," Aunspaw said. "Generally, most of them are scared to death." Some of the small children were so scared they lost control of their bowels. "We've had a couple wet ones here and there," Aunspaw said with a chuckle.

Not all of the kids who cross Santa's (Aunspaw's) path are believers, and they aren't afraid to say it. Some have said to Aunspaw, "I know you're not real. Mom and dad buy me stuff."

For the most part, Santa's job is to spread joy, but there are some sad moments in Santa's line of work. "The hardest ones are, `Can you get my mom and dad back together,' or `Can you bring my mommy back' after a parent has passed away," Aunspaw said. While those requests are the hardest to answer, Aunspaw keeps in Santa stride. "I explain that there are some things even Santa can't do," he said.

Aunspaw has come across plenty of honest kids over the years as well. When asked if they've been naughty or nice, many have offered up that they've been naughty. "I tell them, `It'll all work out. Santa will forgive you,'" he said.

Santa often has to deal with kids who challenge the "wish list" system. Aunspaw said he has dealt with his share of "motor mouths" who memorize and recite their 900-item lists.

While some kids prefer quantity, others are all about quality, and bigger is better. Children have asked Aunspaw for boats, houses or Ferraris. "I tell them, `Well that's a pretty big order to try and fit on Santa's sleigh,'" Aunspaw said ...

When asked if he's ever threatened to put coal in someone's stocking, he replied, "Never." Don't miss Aunspaw (aka Santa) this weekend at the Candlelite Walk event. Parking will be available in the municipal lot behind the police station and to the west of Countryside Antiques.''

Avon to 1974

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