Submitted by Mooseheart
Santa Claus arriving just before Christmas break to bring gifts to the schoolchildren has become one of the great holiday traditions at Mooseheart.
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For the last 10 years, the man in the Santa Claus suit has been the same -- St. Charles resident Bob Miller -- and he again wore the white beard and brought gifts to the school's elementary school-aged students on Dec. 19.
"He's a gem," Mooseheart Executive Director Gary Urwiler said. "He's led by his heart and his passion for children in need."
The support for Miller's trips has changed through the years. When he was the principal at St. Charles East High School, the school's woodworking students held an auction that provided the funding for gift buying. For the last two years, Miller was principal at Haines Middle School in St. Charles and a variety of fundraising activities allowed Santa's trip to continue.
Miller retired from his career in education following the 2012-13 school year. He now works as a salesman for Zimmerman Ford in St. Charles -- and that dealership helped make Thursday's Santa Claus trip possible.
"Jack Zimmerman, my new boss, and I shared the cost of the toys for the children from preschool through fifth grade," Miller said. "It means a lot to still come over here and help during the Christmas season."
In continuing to portray Santa and make trips to Mooseheart, Miller continues to honor the memory of his father, who grew up in a series of orphanages.
"He was never adopted," Miller said. "He remembered being in foster homes where he never got a Christmas gift. As I got older and heard stories from my mom, I always felt I would overcompensate to buy him gifts. Now he's passed on."
As a school principal, Miller worked to make Santa's visit to Mooseheart a learning experience for the students who provided the gifts. That he continues to do so, is a labor of love on behalf of those receiving the presents.
"I do it because I enjoy being around kids as it was part of my profession," Miller said. "I also do it in regard to my dad's memory -- being in nine foster homes in his childhood. I'm sure he appreciates. I know it makes my Christmas to do this."
As Mooseheart's students gathered around Santa to receive gifts on Thursday, they knew nothing of the man in the suit. He was, after all, the Santa Claus who brought them each one toy. There were countless smiles, however -- and every one of them shook Santa's hand as they returned to class.
"His desire to do this stems from his own background and upbringing," Urwiler said. "That he continues to do this after retiring speaks volumes for the kind of character he has and the kind of man Bob Miller is. We're blessed by his efforts."
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, Fla., founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.