Santa Claus, Dan Mosier and Johnnie the Watchdog
During the Great Depression years — the late 1920s to early 1940s — there was much deprivation across the U.S. In the southwestern corner of South Dakota, Santa Claus found things especially challenging.
Families had so little and parents knew Christmas would not change that. It must have made their hearts heavy. The crisis lasted several years and individuals, organizations and businesses within Fall River County, S.D., did their best to lighten the load.
Earl Klock, Dan Mosier and Johnnie the Watchdog were a team that worked in harmony to visit rural schools and families. Klock wore the Santa suit, Mosier owned and drove the car they used for transportation. Johnnie had a space behind his own doggie windshield on the side of the hood where he perched on his rug as they drove the countryside.
The Hot Springs Business and Professional Women was a sponsoring organization. In a 1940 Christmas activities letter from Santa to that group, Klock wrote that his team visited 26 rural schools over a three-day period. BPW purchased mittens for distribution, provided several pieces of clothing, re-conditioned toys, sticks of candy and balloons for all. Every child received a nice new present. Books, dolls, games and toy tractors were among the most common new gifts.
There often was a practical side to the giving season, according to Santa’s letter. The nurses at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs (now the Veteran’s Administration) donated the funds to purchase underwear at local stores for the children in the Shep’s Canyon School District, six miles south of Hot Springs. The Emery family of Oral had six sons and when Santa visited them with gifts, he also gave the mother a new and much-needed winter coat.
That same year, the Hot Springs Theatre showed two free picture shows of “The Little Princess,” starring Shirley Temple on a Saturday before Christmas. The movie was followed by community singing and treats. Naturally Santa Claus was in attendance. The proprietor of the Ben Franklin Store donated three cartons of candy bars, 60 in each carton, for Santa to distribute.
TENDING TO THE SICK AND WOUNDED
The outreach to wounded and ill children continued at the local hospitals in Hot Springs. One was the West River Crippled Children’s Hospital, a treatment center for polio patients. Vera was in an iron lung and her Christmas wish was for a package of Black Jack gum and storybooks. Her thankful attitude at receiving her gifts was uplifting for Santa. Several of the young patients were in wheelchairs or had casts on their various body parts for their treatment. One of the most touching moments in the drive was when Santa arrived in the room of a young girl and her family was visiting. When she opened the package and found a wristwatch, she was delighted; her father cried and the mother beamed in the depth of their appreciation.
The Boy Scouts helped with hospital visits. Klock was a Kiwanis member and that organization provided much assistance to the project. Booties were for the newborns. The oldsters were not left out with a 104-year-old man being the oldest recipient in the hospital.
Santa also paid tribute to Mrs. Claus, saying “She sorted over, selected and tagged between 300 to 500 Christmas presents for people whom she did not know. Sometimes Mrs. Santa Claus reminds me a certain set of weavers who used to weave beautiful rugs over in the old country. The weavers wove from the backside of the rugs, and never did get to see the beautiful designs they were making.”
The toys, the joys and blessings of these volunteers are still remembered. Barbara (Hageman) Landers grew up east of Oral and is now a ranch wife living south of Cascade. She was a student at the WG Flat School in 1940. “I remember when Santa, Johnnie and Mr. Mosier came to our school. I received a kaleidoscope that I enjoyed for many years,” Landers said. ❖