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home : news : news Wednesday, June 29, 2016

12/15/2012 Email this articlePrint this article 
A growing tradition. The annual “Santa Tour” draws more new volunteers year after year. The group — which includes two Santas, Jim McGraw and Mick Seifert; and a Mrs. Claus, Linda Baker — visited University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Tuesday to pass out presents to sick children. Long-time volunteer Sharon Witt, whose husband, Ted, is a volunteer and member of the Low Moor Lions Club, says donations were well above average this year. Thanks to the generosity of area communities, each child had several gifts to open. Photo by Kate Howes
Tanner Dell, 15, is a student at Northeast in Goose Lake and dons his elf wear as a new volunteer on this year’s Santa Tour. Last year, Dell was a recipient of the tour’s generosity when he was receiving treatment in Iowa City for a rare bone cancer. Together with some of his family members and friends, Dell decided to join in and give back. Photo by Kate Howes
New 'elves' experience other side of annual 'Santa Tour'

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

It is said 'tis better to give than to receive.

Connie Dell of rural Clinton is grateful to a special group of people who allowed her son, 15-year-old Tanner, to experience both.

Tuesday marked the 32nd year of the annual "Santa Tour," comprised of volunteers from Lions Clubs in Calamus, Clinton, Goose Lake, Low Moor, Miles and Preston, as well as the Clinton Eagles Club, Linda Baker of Baker Tree Service in Clinton and members of Sts. Mary & Joseph Church Parish in Sugar Creek.

Each year, the volunteers - who appropriately refer to themselves as "elves" - travel to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City to shower sick children with presents, candy canes, teddy bears and a special keepsake: a free, autographed picture taken with one of the two Santas on the tour.

It was a tradition started decades ago by Clinton Lions Club member Dennis "Clipper" Trenkamp.

The Christmas custom has been continued by dozens of volunteers over the years, all because - as one long-time volunteer plainly puts it - they simply can't get enough.

"After they do it once, most people want to do it again and again," says Sharon Witt, whose husband, Ted, is a member of the Low Moor Lions Club. "It's addictive."

The group's motto is "One child, one smile." If volunteers can brighten the spirits of even one youngster whose illness makes it necessary for him or her to spend the holidays in the hospital, then they've accomplished their goal.

Last year, they made one young teen smile who was battling a rare bone cancer.

Tanner Dell, a student at Northeast in Goose Lake, was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a malignant bone tumor that affects children and young people.

The son of Connie and Kirt was diagnosed in October 2011. Tanner had to go to University Hospitals for treatment every other week, spending either three or five days there each time.

Last year when the Santa Tour elves arrived at the hospital, Tanner was there and was the recipient of their generosity and kind and comforting spirit.

A year later, his health has improved and as someone who once was on the other side of the fence, Tanner decided to become an elf himself.

So, Tuesday morning as they gathered at the community center in Low Moor before their departure to Iowa City, the Santa Tour gained a few more helpers - Tanner, Connie, Connie's sisters Kathy Schoel and Karen Schmidt and her mom, Lucy Schoel, all of Clinton.

Even two of Tanner's close friends - Zach Schreiber and Ketzalli Dondiego - donned their Santa hats and became elves for a day as well.

Knowing what it's like to have a loved one battling an illness during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, Tanner, his family and his friends decided to do for others what was done for them just one year ago.

"I had extra vacation days and this is how I wanted to use one," Kathy says. "It's very rewarding to be able to help someone who is going through what we did. We know first-hand how much community support really helps a family who is in these situations."

Connie says volunteering gave her an entirely different perspective on how much time and work the Lions Clubs put into preparing for the Santa Tour each year.

The experience also made her appreciate their efforts even more.

"It was absolutely very emotional for my family and me," she shares. "Knowing exactly what all those families at the hospital are going through . . . that connection we have made it that much more special for us."

For Tanner, it was a lesson in humanity.

As it turns out, what happens to most first-time volunteers happened to him, too.

"Now he wants to do it every year," Connie says. "I think he learned a lot about people doing things out of the pure goodness of their hearts."

Witt says this year's tour attracted a lot of new people, all of whom simply want to continue what Trenkamp started years ago.

"It think different people wanting to come every year is a real compliment to the tradition," she shares. "This all started with a handful of people who traveled to the hospital in mobile homes . . . that's how much this whole thing has changed and evolved. Every year it just grows and grows. It's awesome to see."

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