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Article updated: 12/25/2012 2:57 PM

South Elgin St. Nick has been delighting drivers for 20 years

By Laura Stoecker

Dressed in a Santa suit, Richard Ahrens is spending Christmas morning standing near his white pickup truck at N. La Fox Street (Route 31) and Stone Street in South Elgin, waving to people who pass.

He's not wearing a sandwich board, and he hasn't been hired to dress up as Santa to hawk pizza or an income tax service. He's out there because he likes it.

Ahrens lives in East Dundee now, but years ago he lived in a house at La Fox and Stone streets, which has since been torn down.

One Christmas morning 20-25 years ago (he's lost count) he and his wife were in the South Elgin house, and he was bored. His kids were grown and there wasn't a lot to do. So Ahrens climbed into the Santa suit and went to the corner, where he waved to people for several hours.

His wife thought he was nuts. "To me," he says, "it's a lot of fun."

Ahrens hasn't missed a Christmas since. He moved about eight years ago, but still comes back to the same corner every Christmas Day from 9 a.m. to noon.

People love to interact with him. They smile, honk, wave back and yell "Merry Christmas!" out their car windows. Every once in a while there's a grump who won't make eye contact, but mostly the people who pass are delighted.

Sometimes people drop off hot coffee or cocoa. Today, someone gave him a box of Fannie May chocolates. One year a local bartender brought him a shot of brandy.

But Ahrens doesn't do it for those reasons, he just likes it. He's out there no matter the weather, and has withstood rain, snow, extreme cold and unseasonable heat.

On Tuesday, Diana Roberts of Cary was driving to her boyfriend's house in South Elgin when she saw Ahrens, and turned the car around to get him hot coffee from the gas station up the street. (They were out of hot cocoa.)

Ahrens' family gets together after 2 p.m. on Christmas, but he wasn't done with Santa for the day -- he was playing St. Nick Christmas afternoon for a neighbor's 13 grandchildren.

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