They make the season bright for others

By Jaye Alderson | For The Compass | December 22, 2016

Floyd and Jean, aka Santa and Mrs. Claus, share smiles, faith with kids from 1 to 92

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]OSHKOSH — Floyd Wouters, 70, and Jean Wouters, 65, members of St. Mary Parish in Winneconne, truly know how to keep Christmas in their hearts all year. They have been playing Santa and Mrs. Claus for more than 20 years for venues such as their parish, Mercy Medical Center and Father Carr’s Place 2B in Oshkosh and St. Vincent de Paul in Appleton.

Your Catholic Neighbors: Floyd and Jean Wouters (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

It all started 24 years ago in true Santa fashion. Floyd was then working at St. John Neumann Middle School in Oshkosh. He had a snowy beard and loving nature and attracted the attention of Melanie, the 3-year-old daughter of a woman who worked in the lunch line. Melanie was convinced from September on that Floyd was Santa Claus. Just before Thanksgiving vacation, she wanted to sit on his knee and confide her Christmas wishes.

Floyd wanted to do something special for Melanie. He received permission to throw her a little party at the school the day before Christmas vacation. All the middle school students cooperated in making it a special day for the young girl.

The word got around quickly and Floyd was asked to play Santa by others. Even after his family moved to Winneconne and Floyd moved on to teach mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, his appearances continued.

His wife, Jean, quickly became part of the team as Mrs. Claus. “I’m shy and I don’t like doing it by myself,” Floyd said. “I needed her support. Jean became just as hooked on that whole business as I was.”

It was such a smooth transition for the couple to take on the personas of Santa and Mrs. Claus that Floyd said, “We were almost chosen by God to be Mr. and Mrs. Santa.”

It fits right into their philosophy for the rest of their lives in being devoted to the church, their family and each other.

Floyd grew up in Green Bay, where he was baptized at St. Agnes Church — the same parish where his grandfather helped dig out the basement for the church building. Jean grew up in Oshkosh and attended St. Mary Parish. She and her sisters have written two books, including “Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe,” about their experiences growing up and cooking together.

They met during college at UW-Oshkosh and knew right away that their relationship was special. “I asked her out on May 6 and asked her to marry me on May 8,” said Floyd. “We’ll celebrate 45 years of marriage on Dec. 30.”

Jean is an able seamstress and created their costumes, as well as magnificent, opulent fur-trimmed overcoats that match. She stitched them together from thrift store finds. “He got so much attention when he went out in that coat that I thought, ‘I want one of those, too,’ Jean said. So she created a matching one for herself. “Grandparents, especially, see those coats and light up with the wonder and beauty of it,” Jean said.

The couple also wear their costumes out and about while shopping or doing everyday errands, just for fun.

On one visit to a grocery store, they got in line, and the other shoppers said, “I think we should let the Clauses go first.” The checker challenged Floyd cheekily, wanting to discuss that time in sixth grade that she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. “I remember you,” Floyd recalled saying. “You told everybody you didn’t believe in me anymore and you were a real snot all year.”

“‘You ARE Santa,’” he said the checker responded, and everyone in the entire checkout line “roared,” Floyd said.

That same day, the costumed couple visited their son, Jared, who was then a junior at Lourdes High School in Oshkosh. “We decided to try to embarrass him a little,” Floyd said. “But the reaction he got was, ‘Wow, are your parents ever neat!’ ”

Another little boy once plucked a hair off of one of their costumes and thought he was going to make a fortune by auctioning off a Santa hair on Ebay.

If they get a child who doesn’t speak their language, “A hug does the job,” Floyd said.

At their parish in Winneconne, their presence is a point of pride. When Fr. Doug La Captain once asked parish members to turn to their neighbor and tell why they had come to church that day, one little girl said, “Because the Clauses belong to our parish.”

Even though the experience of playing the Clauses is so much fun for the couple, “Santa knows what’s important,” Floyd said. Both Floyd and Jean wear references to Jesus on their outfits, and Floyd often wears ties displaying Bible verses.

“You have to proclaim who you are and what you’re about,” Jean said.

Floyd said his parents took their children to Mass every Sunday and “that was important.” He said his father taught him that he should always express great pride and love in his marriage and his wife.

The Wouters were so proud that their son, Jared, got it right early, proclaiming when he was only 7 years old, “Jesus and Santa must be really good friends. They both want one thing for children: for them to be good.”

Their other child, Carrie, born in 1977, lived only one week, but they said she has brought great blessings to their lives. “We learned so much and were drawn so close to God because of that little life,” Floyd said. Many years later, a couple on the street recognized them from the intensive care nursery.

“They are miracles, the little happenings that occur in our lives,” Jean said. “It’s amazing what God does for us, turning something like that into wonder.”

Jean said she loves seeing the joy in people’s faces when they play Santa and Mrs. Claus. “We don’t take life too seriously; you’ve got to have fun,” she said, adding that they have made hundreds of friends and acquaintances through their Santa appearances.

Floyd also volunteers at Mercy Medical Center. He and Jean are sacristans at their parish and are involved with the Winneconne Historical Society. In addition to the Clauses, they sometimes dress up in Victorian clothing, like Charles Dickens’ characters, and ring bells for the Salvation Army.

They see their Santa and Mrs. Claus work as a mission. The most important message to children, Floyd said, is that “God loves you.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]

Your Catholic Neighbors
Names: Floyd and Jean Wouters
Parish: St. Mary, Winneconne
Ages: Floyd, 70; Jean, 65
Favorite saints: Floyd, John of the Cross; Jean, Anthony of Padua
Words to live by: Floyd, “It is what it is.” Jean, “Be good.”
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