Be one of Santa’s helpers!

It takes a lot of people and elves to support Santa Claus during the holidays. In the “Ask Santa Anything” program produced at Midland Community Television last December, Santa Claus pointed out that 886 elves work for him at the North Pole. Here in Midland, “318-321 volunteers” are needed to support the Santa House and the Northern Star Train, according to Raquel Brown, Director of Development and Santa House staff liaison at the Midland Area Community Foundation.

The Santa House has been a holiday attraction in downtown Midland since 1987. It sits next to the Midland County Courthouse at the corner of Main and Jerome Streets. There’s no cost to see Santa and the displays featuring elves making toys.The Northern Star Train takes riders on a free trip on Main Street to Dow Diamond and back to the Santa House. It debuted in 2014. Two endowment funds housed at the foundation helped create the Santa House. Raquel says, “Both of those funds completely support the operation of it. We kind of took on the planning aspect.”
Konnor Janeczko works traffic control for the Northern Star Train.
One of the volunteers for the past 26 years or so is Kimberley Zimmer-Janeczko of Midland. By day, she’s the administrator of the Transportation Systems Management and Operations program for the Michigan Department of Transportation. Kimberly has a civil engineering degree from Michigan Tech, which is located way up north, but not that close to the North Pole.  By night, she’s a volunteer for the Santa House and the Northern Star Train. Years ago, a civil engineering friend connected Kimberly to the Santa House, where Tom Valent, another civil engineer and Tech grad, is a very familiar face. Kimberly says, “I signed up through the Midland Area Community Foundation and I met Tom.” 

On Friday nights in December, she and her 18-year-old son, Konnor, a senior at H.H. Dow High School, volunteer on the train. Kimberly says, “That’s become our tradition. We do traffic control because of my background. We’re in high visibility PPE (personal protective equipment) vests. He wants to go into civil engineering.” Her older son, Nolan, is also a volunteer.  He’s a student at Michigan Tech. Konnor plans to go there, too. Husband Bill, another Tech grad, enjoys seeing the new displays created by Gerace Construction at the Santa House.

Family photo with Santa & Mrs. Claus a few years ago
Kimberly signs up for a couple of evenings in the Santa House and she says, “I’m on call. If someone’s sick, I can go in on short notice.” She volunteers for up to 20 hours during the season and, with Nolan,  Kimberly has walked the Santa Parade passing out Santa House schedules to parade watchers. She’s served for two years on the Santa House planning committee. 15 people are on the committee. Kimberly says, “Based on feedback, we decide what changes to make, see what’s been going really well, and prepare for the season.” Raquel says, “Everybody comes together to make it all happen, to bring the Christmas spirit to life.”
Konnor & Nolan Janeczko
A volunteer shift in the evening is from 6:00-9:00 pm. There are also daytime and weekend shifts. In the Santa House, volunteers act as Santa’s helpers, and they offer to take pictures with a family’s camera or cell phones. Plus, Kimberly says, “We operate the front door, welcome people, make sure we’re not overcrowding, to stay in compliance with fire regulations.” Last year, over 10,000 individuals visited the Santa House. She sometimes works the back door, having visitors sign the guest book, make sure they get this season’s souvenir, and help families get their coats. After they close for the evening, they vacuum, restock the candy, and “leave it in good order for the next day.”  

At the train, volunteers help riders get on and off the train and they ride on each end of the train staying in radio communication with the train’s driver and traffic control. If you want to volunteer, Raquel says, ‘We do accept everybody 18 years and up. We do have kids (over 10) who want to volunteer with their families. We just ask that they volunteer with a guardian over the age of 18.” She adds, “Long periods of standing are required.” There are chairs available inside the Santa House if a volunteer needs to sit for a bit.

Kimberly says, “I just love the Santa House. It’s happy. It’s free to everybody…It’s just really nice and it makes you feel good. I enjoy seeing the little kids and how excited they are.” Of Kimberly, Raquel says, “Kim has had a hand in the Santa House ALMOST longer than I’ve been on this earth. Her passion and support she has given have been unwavering and she is a prime example of what makes the House a special place in our community.”

To sign up to volunteer, call Laura Dittenber at 989-839-9661, email You can also go to the Santa House website.
The Santa House will open for the season on Tuesday, November 28, starting with the Courthouse and Santa House Lighting ceremony at 6:30pm which begins with Santa entering Midland by crossing the Tridge.

No appointments are needed this season to visit the Santa House. The hours are:

Saturday, December 2 through Saturday, December 23, 6:00-9:00 pm

In addition, weekend hours are 9:00 am-Noon and 1:30-4:30 pm.

Starting Monday, December 11, weekday hours are added from 1:30-4:30 pm.

Three sensory friendly nights are on the schedule Wednesday, Nov 29 through Friday, Dec 1 from 6:00-9:00 pm. You can secure your visit or express the accommodations needed by calling Laura at the foundation at 989-839-9661.

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Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020, "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."