The first thing needed for Fort Wayne's 67 year old Santa to shine is (of course)- POWER! For 35 years, Phil Sterigerwald (the Wolf & Dessauer employee who played Santa) turned on the Christmas display lights. The second location of the Santa and Reindeer display was the north side of the Fort Wayne National Bank building, where a drawing was held to choose the employee who would flip-the-switch. National City Bank, who bought Fort Wayne National in 1997, turned the display lighting into a charitable event as they auction off the lighting-rights and donate the proceeds each year.

Regardless of who turns it on, the 155 foot wide, 5 ton, 24,717 bulb display requires maintenance (we're talking 5,000 to 8,000 bulbs each year!) and love of the Northeast Indiana community who have come to recognize the lighted, animated Santa display as the holiday spirit.

Mr. Rick Blossom, head of Corporate Real Estate Services, has been an employee of National City (formerly Fort Wayne National) Bank, at the same downtown building, since 1973. Like many others, he remembers going downtown in the 1950’s to see the Wolf & Desshauer display. Blossom, working at various functions within the bank, has been involved with the Santa display since 1988 when he first bought replacement bulbs. We’re not talking about a standard lamp light for Santa! According to Blossom, Santa and his reindeer are composed primarily of 11 watt bulbs. In 2006 however, the display went LED, or at least a reindeer’s leg did. Although the LED bulbs initially cost approximately three times as much, the difference should be made up in about 2 years as LED is more durable, requires less energy to operate, and generates less heat (thereby saving the cost of replacing melted wires).

Physically hanging the Santa display currently involves about 20 people, from facilitators (such as Mr. Blossom) to electricians, iron workers, maintenance men and crane operators. According the the Journal Gazette, a local Ft. Wayne Newspaper, it takes 2 1/2 - 3 days to hang Santa on the wall of the bank. While some volunteer labor is involved, it is costly to maintain, hang and power the Santa display (see map below). Blossom declined to state the exact dollar amount but stated the “expense is a worthwhile community project." A full crew of men and a crane is also needed to hang the 3 1/2 ton Christmas Wreath on the outside wall of One Summit Square. Fortunately, the Christmas Wreath, that once belonged to Wolf & Dessauer's department store, is made up of five interlocking pieces. Each piece can be hung individually.

While it may seem very difficult to put the Santa and the Reindeer display up each year, it was even harder to put the Christmas lights on the side of the Wolf & Dessauer building in the 1940's and 50's. Nancy Vendrely interviewed Kenneth Gaff, a former employee of the Brinkman Corporation, on behalf of the Journal Gazette in 1996. Gaff worked for the company when they built the Christmas display and helped to hang Santa and his reindeer on the side of the department store. Without the assistance of a crane, it took approximately 18 men, five to six days to mount the display. The men used blocks and tackle, steel hooks, and long ropes to pull the display up the side of the building and anchor it into place.





Resources
Blossom, Rick. Personal interview. Oct. 2007.
Tannehill, Carol. "Fort Wayne's favorite Santa turns 63 this year." Fort Wayne News Sentinel [Fort Wayne] 24 Nov. 2003. Santa and the Corvette. Ed. Dalvid Palmeter. Dec. 2004. 15 Oct. 2007
http://palmeter.com/Christmas2004.htm Palmeter included Tannenhill's article in his website.
Nancy Vendrely. "Holiday Lights, Decorations are a City Traditions". Journal Gazette 22 November 2001.
Nancy Vendrely. "Bulb Installer Helped Bring W&D's to Light". Journal Gazette 2 April 1996


According to Wolf & Dessauer: An Album of Memories by Jim and Kathie Barron, the giant wreath was first displayed in 1937 on the side of the Calhoun Street Store. It was 25 feet high and contained more than 40,000 lights. It also spent a few years at the Huntington location of Wolf & Dessauer before being retired to a warehouse after the store was sold to L.S. Ayres. Years later, the Fort Wayne Parks Department rescued the wreath for display at Christmas at the Zoo. Although the Santa and the wreath displays hung for many years on the side of the W&D building, for a few years it wasn't lit. According to the above mentioned book by the Barrons, "the reason is that during World War II, we're told the lights were kept out to reduce the chance of enemy planes easily spotting the city at night because Fort Wayne was a manufacturer of materials used to fight the war and was thought to be a target for enemy attack. It was also done to help to conserve energy during the war." (p.36-37) ~ Barron, Jim & Kathie. Wolf & Dessauer: An Album of Memories. Fort Wayne, IN: 2003.
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