Labor of love keeps Santa Claus Lane alive

Friday, November 28, 2003

With a little help from our friends and neighbors, one of McCook's nicest holiday traditions is going strong after more than half a century.

The tradition -- which has delighted children since the 1940s -- is Santa Claus Lane.

Started as a labor of love by W.K. "Swantie" Swanson of Swanson Sign Co. and Ed Peterson of Peterson's Ideal Laundry & Dry Cleaners, the lane of Santa signs and holiday greetings was an instant hit with youngsters, bringing families from miles around to drive up and down the festively decorated islands on Norris Avenue.

And -- despite some rough treatment and varied storage sites -- the Christmas scenes have survived to this day, little changed from the original paintings by the late Mr. Swanson.

This year's display -- which again stretches from Norris and F to Norris and O -- features 47 different signs, placed on the islands in orderly, angled fashion by labor crews from the Work Ethic Camp.

To enjoy the displays, the best way is to wait until after dark, then drive up and down Norris slowly, placing your vehicle's headlights on high beam. This more fully illuminates the brightly colored scenes.

There are many to thank for Santa Claus Lane's continued existence. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Christmas signs became badly beat up, with the the scenes deteriorating because of storage in primitive conditions at the Army Air Base.

With the help of Ivan Schmid and others, Norma Rose Strunk took it upon herself to restore Santa Claus Lane, rebuilding and repainting to return the signs to their vibrant origins.

Since that time, the lane has been better maintained, thanks in large part to a trust fund established in memory of Mrs. Strunk. The McCook Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations, including Sertoma, have joined over the years to keep the displays in good condition.

Support from banks and businesses -- who donate lighting -- have also been instrumental to the lane's success, as has the participation of the Work Ethic Camp.

By working together with contributions of labor and financial support, the helpers are keeping a treasured tradition -- Santa Claus Lane -- alive for new generations to enjoy.

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