Santa Float brings holiday cheer to Waterloo

Each year, Waterloo celebrates Christmastime in a unique way. Sitting in a living room in a Waterloo home, music begins wafting up the street. As the tunes get louder, kids run out into their front yards.

They’re waiting for the Santa Float.

For close to 10 years, the float has graced the neighborhoods of Waterloo, announcing its arrival with Christmas music and Santa bellowing “ho-ho-ho!” over the PA system.

It’s evolved from a simple float playing Christmas music into a hugely decorated affair with Santa, elves and goody bags for all who come outside to witness it.

Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith has been a part of the float since 2006, and said they have received much positive feedback on the float over the years.

“(Sunday night), we had one guy say ‘only in Waterloo,’” Smith said. “And the way he said it was one of the nicest things we’ve heard. We do good things here. This is the kind of thing that would happen in this town.”

Smith said they hear many positive comments from people who have just moved to town, as well.

“We had a few people from St. Louis and even Indiana tell us how great this is and how much they appreciate it,” he said. “We owe it all to Harry Wolf. None of this would’ve happened without him.”

Wolf started the early version of the Santa Float around 10 years ago.

A 70-year-member of the Waterloo German Band, Wolf asked then-mayor Bob Krump if he could take the band trailer and play some music up and down the street.

“I did that for a year or two,” he said. “A couple years passed, and I got Joe Tucker, who had a big white beard, to come with me up and down the streets.”

For a few years, Wolf made gift bags with his own money to give to the kids they’d visit.

“My objective was 100 percent for the children of Waterloo,” he said.

After a few years, former Waterloo Chamber of Commerce executive director Deb Ruggeri was looking for a project for the chamber to help fund. Wolf suggested she help out with his idea.

“They helped, and the following year, the City of Waterloo pitched in, too,” he said.

The float grew from there.

“I started putting other things in the bags, too,” he said. “Now, we start way in the beginning of August.”

Wolf is assisted by fellow German band member Barbara Johnson, who goes out and finds all the goodies that make up the treat bags.

Members of the Waterloo High School SHOW Club (Students Helping Out Waterloo) put all the bags together.

These days, they make up about 3,000 bags, which makes for a lot of work ahead of time.

“We want to put things in there that the kids will enjoy,” Johnson said.

They get donations from various organizations around town, and have garnered help over the years, as well.

“Donations come pretty close to what we pay, initially,” Wolf said. “I don’t want it to become a political or advertising thing, though. I just want to do it for the children.”

And that’s his favorite part; the reason he started the float in the first place.

“The most gratifying part is seeing the happy little children,” Wolf said.

Johnson agreed, recalling fond memories of this year and years past of children jumping up and down as the float approaches.

“The adults love it just as much. They’re kids at heart,” Johnson said.

This year, the Santa Float makes its final journey on Christmas Eve, visiting the Villas at Bradford, Marney’s Clearing, Bradford Estates, Remlok, East Ridge, Quail Ridge, The Ridge, Oak Hill, Legacy Place, Parkwood and Country Lakes. It steps off at 5 p.m., and usually makes its round for about four hours.

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