Each time I gaze upon the Milwaukee Trail I recall how much time my passionate pal Butch Fish volunteered so much time and perspiration to that particular project. I also remember him when I cruise through Murray Forest Park, where he worked tirelessly providing a place for fun and recreation. However, Butch’s gifts to this county strikes the heartstrings most when I drive to the top of Otis Park and that lovely, rustic shelter house. Why? This interview from more than a decade ago best explains what our community companion meant to many of us. **** Thursday and Friday evenings listening to the wish lists of hundreds of little boys and girls who filed into Santa’s House at Otis Park to chat with jolly old Saint Nick.
Fish, who has portrayed Santa the past four Decembers at Otis, said little lasses wanted Barbie and baby dolls, while the lads asked for trucks. “This is by far the busiest we’ve been,” he said. “On Thursday last year we had 87 people visit us. This time we had 220. “This event continues to grow in popularity. I can’t say enough about what a great job the Bedford Parks Department and the Otis Park Ladies Club have done with this project.” City workers and volunteers adorn the park in lights, and a customized Christmas sleigh carries visitors up the winding lane from the Otis Bath House to the shelter house to meet Santa. A holiday bazaar at the Red Brick drew large crowds of shoppers to the park Thursday and Friday. Fish said his favorite aspect of the experience is watching people as they climb from the sleigh and enter the shelter house, which features flame-filled hearths on both ends. “When they come walking through that door eyes immediately light up and everyone is smiling from ear to ear,” Fish said. “I’m talking about kids, parents and grandparents alike. It’s such a warm, beautiful atmosphere.” Youngsters listened with unabated attention as Kaye Jeffries, serving as Mrs. Claus, read them a story from her rocking chair near the northern hearth. Earnest elves Alyssa Spears and Miranda Turpen then guided the children to Santa’s perch so they could reveal their wish lists. “I’d say about 75 percent of them have very specific requests,” Fish said. “Some of them even bring written lists. One little boy had clipped what he wanted from catalogues and pasted them into a book.” Fish said another lad requested a hay baler for his father. Several of the visitors interrogated Santa. “Most of them want to know what kind of cookies I like,” Fish said. “That’s definitely what I get asked the most.” Two tiny blondes were so mesmerized with the illuminated train across from Santa’s perch that they needed to be steered back toward St. Nick. When Santa arose to stretch his legs and swing his golf club, a little gal proclaimed: “Santa! There’s no golf ball down there!” Fish promptly retorted: “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.” The girl looked up at her parents and flashed a grin of approval. Butch does a great job as Santa and Kaye is wonderful as Mrs. Claus,” said Mike Mitchell, superintendent of parks. “This is one of my favorite events of the year. We really look forward to this because the kids and their families get so much out of it.” I am not alone in echoing that thought. Thanks, Butch … for all you did to make us smile.