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Clarkston graduate brings Santa home for Christmas



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Santa and Mrs. Claus, also known as Mike and Lorraine Simonson. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
December 16, 2009 - Santa Claus has a satellite office, and it's here in the Clarkston area.

"We decided to do this about 30 days ago," said Mike Simonson, who portrays Santa Claus. "Everything came together, and it's really taken off."

Mike and his wife, Lorraine Simonson, turned their log-cabin home off White Lake Road into Santa's Cabin.

Neighbors, friends, and family pitched in, installing wiring, providing decorations, building a web site, and taking publicity photos.

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"Everybody pitched in," Mike said. "This is a conglomeration of everyone's efforts. We all got together in the spirit of Christmas."

Parents make appointments for their children, filling out Elf Reports so Santa knows their names and what to talk about. Mike and Lorraine's Santa and Mrs. Claus spend 10-15 minutes with each child.

"It's a private time with Santa, no lines, no stress, no pressure to buy anything because we're not selling anything," Mike said. "Parents take as many pictures as they like."

Mike, a 1963 graduate of Clarkston High School, is a retired youth pastor. He served in four churches in Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee for more than 25 years.

A friend told him he would make a great Santa Claus about 15 years ago, and he took the part four years ago.

"I asked a neighbor who was a beautician to turn my hair snow white," said Mike, previously with a salt-and-pepper hair color. "My daughter said, 'that's it, that's Santa.'"

"My reaction was, what have you done now it completely changed his look," Lorraine said.

He went to Santa Claus school in Georgia, with 110 student Santas in his class.

"We learned the history, the ins and outs of Santa, the suit and the hair," he said.

He and Lorraine worked as mall Santas in Georgia and Oklahoma, but this year decided to stay home.

"This is something we've talked about for years," Mike said. "This is my childhood home we moved here when I was 7 years old."

The log cabin, 3509 Teggerdine Road in Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, was contructed in 1945. Mike's parents Al and Betty Simonson bought it in 1952.

"This was a great place to grow up," Mike said.

"The cabin itself is awesome," said Lorraine.

Santa and Mrs. Claus meet children in the cabin's living room, decorated with colorful lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, Santa decorations, and a wood fireplace.

The garage is now an Elf Lounge, where families can wait if there's a line.

Santa's Cabin is a two-person operation, busy especially in the evenings, when the Christmas lights shine brightest, and weekends.

"It's just Mike and I," Lorraine said. "We get up at the crack of dawn, plow the driveway, do our own hair, make up, and clothing."

They expect more than 200 children this season.

"We've been overwhelmed by the response," Mike said. "The best part is listening to the children, their innocence of heart, seeing their joy. Kids understand Christmas is about giving as much as getting."

"The spirit of Christmas has been through the whole thing," Lorraine said. "We're thrilled, we're blessed."

Mike and Lorraine have two children, Rana and Jerry, and four grandchildren. They plan to make this an ongoing activity.

"I usually cut my hair and beard in January and let it grow the rest of the year," Mike said. "By June or July, kids are already calling me Santa."

Photo-shoot appointments are $25. For more information or to make an appointment, call 248-977-0075, or check Santascabin.net.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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