MILWAUKEE — When he walked into the kindergarten classroom at St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School, the students were in complete surprise. Some shouted, some waved, one of them even stood up and did a little dance. The special guest brought with him some bells and the students tugged at them to see who could ring them the loudest.
Their special guest – Santa Claus – came to visit on Wednesday, Dec. 21 before the kids went on Christmas break.
Katie Holma, a kindergarten teacher, readied the children to sing Santa-related songs they’d been practicing.
Santa and employees of Nolan Accounting Center, who every year for the past eight years have been visiting St. Rose and St. Leo, gave gifts to the kindergarten class.
Robert Nolan, playing one of Santa’s elves, found out about the school by reading its newsletter.
“Our company was trying to find a place to donate to at Christmas time so I called St. Rose to see if they would be open to this and they were,” he said. “It makes us feel great. Our employees just love putting this together and they all get involved.”
He and his brother Tim, mysteriously absent at the event, founded the company.
Six-year-old Samantha and 5-year-old Neriah were both excited to see Santa as they waited patiently with their wrapped gifts until all of their classmates had theirs.
“I would like a pink guitar and a big doll house and a little baby toy set,” Neriah said. “You know what I want to get for my little brother? I want to get him some little baby boots and Nike shoes and a shirt.”
Samantha said she wanted a Barbie and that she wanted to wait until she got home to open her present.
Once everyone had their gifts, Santa asked the group of kindergarteners a question. “Can I see what’s in those presents?” Immediately, wrapping paper was ripped and tossed, bags were emptied, and the sound of 40, 5 and 6 year-olds happily exploring and examining their gifts echoed through the hallways far from the classroom.
Neriah got a Barbie bedroom set, convertible, doll and a new outfit for herself. Samantha gave in to the excitement around her and asked Neriah for help getting her gift out of the bag as it was heavy. She opened it to find out it was an Easy Bake Oven; she also received a new outfit.
Each gift is specifically chosen for each student who filled out a wish list in October; the gifts range in cost between $20 to $40.
“Most of our students are predominately low-income; most (90 percent) of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch which is an indicator,” Jennifer Flierl, marketing and communication coordinator for Messmer Catholic Schools, said. “The fact that (the gifts) are tailored to the children is very special.”
Last year was her first year and she was surprised with what she saw.
“I was amazed; I could not believe the gifts that they received,” Flierl said. “I knew that they were going to get gifts; I thought they would get token gifts, but these are wish list gifts that the students come up with.”
Flierl called the event an “amazing problem to organize.”
“For people that have not been in a room with 40 some kindergarten students receiving gifts all at once, it’s an amazing experience and the generosity is absolutely overwhelming,” Flierl said.
This year the generosity reached beyond just the kindergartners.
“Through the help of my parish, Holy Apostles in New Berlin, we were able to bring gifts for the whole school,” Robert Nolan said. “We brought about 427 gifts in total.”
Nolan Accounting Company provided the gifts for the kindergarten; the rest of the school received gifts from Holy Apostles later in the day at a school concert.
“We have a huge gift tree at our parish and we give out about 900 gifts through my association,” Robert Nolan said. “It makes us feel great; our employees just love putting this together and they all get involved.”
After the event, Santa disappeared, but Tim Nolan revealed that he had been playing Santa all along and had been for seven of the eight years they’ve been doing this.
“We used to do kindergarten and first grade,” Tim Nolan said, but eventually stopped visiting the first graders. “First grade, they’re on to Santa. The mystery isn’t quiet the same.”
Even on this occasion a few brave kindergarteners tugged on Santa’s beard.
“Getting to interact with the kids is always interesting,” he said. “In past years we’ve had bikes and basketball hoops. Most kids get a real toy and some clothing to go with that … these are not dollar store gifts”
He said each year it’s a joy to participate but the credit belongs to the employees of Nolan Accounting Co. and, this year, Holy Apostles Parish.