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Santas everywhere: That Santa at the corporate Christmas party might be an elf

TWIN FALLS — Larry Evans has been playing Santa Claus so long he sometimes forgets where he ends and Santa begins.

With his white hair, white beard and twinkling blue eyes, Evans looks like the real thing — even when he isn’t wearing his red suit.

“Kids will see me and whisper ‘Mommy, that guy looks like Santa,’” Evans said. “And she’ll say, ‘Yes, he does.’”

Then Evans will surprise the boy with a candy cane — he carries candy canes all year long just for those moments. And these aren’t the miniature candies; Santa packs full-sized candy canes.

But Evans isn’t the only Santa in the game. Santa — or one of his elves — seems to be on every street corner this time of year.

This Santa has walked the streets passing out candy canes. He’s ridden in a horse-drawn wagon passing out canes, and waved with canes from a firetruck in the Festival of Lights Parade.

Other Santas make a guest appearance at corporate Christmas parties, Christmas pageants.

“It’s a fun time of year,” he said, as he cleared his throat. “Ho, ho, ho.”

Evans repeated his deep “Ho, ho, ho,” showing how he opens his throat and pushes the sound from his diaphragm.

It’s not as easy as it looks, he said.

Evans has played Santa for about 35 years. He’s on his third generation of lap-sitters.

“I’ve had children, women and men sit on my lap,” he said.

If you shop at Walmart, you might catch a glimpse of John Schneider decked out in a red suit and hat, sneaking up on children in the store.

Schneider plays Santa Claus, surprising children when they least expect it, his “Ho, ho, ho” echoing in the aisles of the toy department.

Spotting a little girl, Schneider careened around an end cap and waved as he ran by.

How does Santa explain so many other Santas on the streets?

“Santa can’t do everything, so those other ‘Santas’ are helpers,” Evans said. “They get out there and let everyone know that Santa’s a good guy.”

Santa comes prepared to banter.

“I have to have an answer for everything,” Evans said.

At the Magic Valley Mall, Eugene Wixom gets paid to dress in red and pose with children while a photographer takes their portrait.

“See you next year, Santa,” said a little girl as she waved goodbye.

Next up, 8-year-old Bryan Orozco sat on Santa’s lap, while his older sister, Lesly Orozco, sat next to the jolly old elf.

LaNora Wixom, this Santa’s wife of nearly 50 years, said her husband is a kid magnet.

“He has a heart of gold,” she said. Wixom worked for Meadow Gold for 30 years and has been playing Santa for 5.

“He loves the little babies,” his wife said, watching as Wixom posed with 8-month-old Ziva Adams.

Ziva sat attentively watching the photographer, then turned to look at the bearded face next to hers. Her expression went from curious to grim, before she burst into tears.

The tears are par for the course, said Wixom, who has grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his own.

That’s where candy canes come in handy, as do milk and cookies, Evans said. This Santa likes to drink Dr. Pepper, but prefers chocolate milk with his cookies.

“If I get chocolate milk, I’ll eat any kind of cookie,” he said.

What do kids ask Santa for these days?

“A new car or a million dollars,” Evans said. But he can still remember when children would ask for a toy truck or a book to read.

“This Santa is as old as the wind,” Evans said.

“It’s a fun time of year. Ho, ho, ho.” Santa Claus

Paul man scores train photo for Christmas

PAUL— David Simmons could hear the whistle in his mind and he felt an eerie chill as the hair on his neck stood up the first time his eyes fell on a large framed photograph of a familiar steam engine on display near the emergency room at Minidoka Memorial Hospital.

David, who is battling cancer, knew immediately that he wanted to own the photograph of Union Pacific Railroad’s 844 steam engine.

“He never asks for anything and he always gets me really nice gifts,” Darla Simmons, his wife, said. “I knew I had to make sure he got it.”

So she put in a bid for it at a silent auction for the hospital’s annual festival of trees fundraiser.

But she didn’t know that several other people had their eye on it too, and by the end of the event several days later, the cost had skyrocketed to $750.

“When we got to the festival of trees he just went over and just stared at it,” Donna said, but after finding out how much the bid had went up, he said he didn’t want it.”

Donna went back the last day of the festival and put in a bid of $755, winning the print.

“He was saying, “I don’t know where I’m going to hang it, I don’t have a wall. I will build a wall,” Donna said.

Instead, Donna suggested a place of honor on a large wall near the entryway of the couple’s home.

The photo of steam engine 844 was captured last spring as the train came through the area by local photographer and nurse Mike Simcoe, and he donated it.

“The best photo is one that grabs someone,” Simcoe said. “That really means a lot to a photographer. It couldn’t have gone to a better person, it was meant for him.”

Simcoe said getting a good image of the train proved more difficult than he first thought.

He assumed the engine would be just chugging along but it was traveling 60 mph.

“It just rumbled the ground,” he said.

He was able to capture the shot by Baker’s Cave in Minidoka County.

“In this day and age it’s really nice to see someone so passionate about something,” Simcoe said.

Thirty-three years spent working on trains had left its mark on David, who has a train bell on display in his front yard and a room dedicated to his passion.

In the room a model train runs on a track suspended just under the ceiling, a shelf on one wall is covered with carved trains, plaques and other railroad memorabilia — and railroad photos line the walls.

Several times over his 33-year career, 844 had rolled through David’s work territory and he’d had opportunity to service and work on it.

Dubbed the Living Legend, the engine was the last of Union Pacific Railroad’s steam locomotives. A passenger engine, it is taken out for special events around the country.

“He was like a kid in a toy shop every time he serviced that train,” Donna said.

When David stood near 844’s wheels they stretched up above his head and its whistle created a memory that still jars him today.

Each time it came through he’d get his wife to bring the camera and they’d try to capture a great photo of the train, which always drew big crowds with its arrival – but the quintessential photo remained elusive.

“It was hard to get close to it because it always drew a crowd,” David said.

His love for steam engines began as a child when they lived at King Hill near Mountain Home.

“As a kid I could hear the steam engines as they’d pull up that hill,” David said.

His father and grandfather both worked for the railroad — so the roots run deep.

David plans to write his career history with the railroad and his connection to the 844 and place it in an envelope on the back of the print.

“It will always be in our family,” Donna said.

Alex Brandon 

Washington Redskins running back Samaje Perine (32) tries to make headway against the Denver Broncos defense during the first half an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rupert mother eases heartache with Idaho Fallen Soldiers tree

RUPERT — Many holidays are military themed and those that aren’t — like Christmas — bring a special heartache to the families of Idaho’s fallen soldiers.

“The flags and patriotic displays bring back memories of a flag-lined funeral route,” said Anna Workman, Rupert mother of Army Sgt. Chris Workman, 33. He was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012 along with his crew when their helicopter crashed during a night mission.

“This time of year is really difficult,” Chris’s father, John Workman, said.

Anna erected an Honor Tree for Idaho’s fallen soldiers, who have died since 9/11 to help soothe her spirit and honor the sacrifice of the Idaho families.

“The holidays are stark reminders of why we do not have our son,” Anna said.

Seventy-two ceramic ornaments with photos of Idaho’s fallen soldiers dress the tree on display in the front window of Workman Inc. on the Rupert Square.

Several people worked on the tree, including Dixie Walker, of Heyburn, Georgene Mason, of Twin Falls, who donated the green ware and Beth Garatea, of Murtaugh.

Each ornament is embellished with the Army’s Gold Star, which serves as a symbol of sacrifice.

“Sometimes it just gives me a chill thinking about it,” Walker said.

Walker painted all of the ornaments, a project she worked on all through the summer and she worked to get the stars just the right shade of yellow-gold.

“I think the tree is prettier than anything you’d see at the festival of trees,” Walker said. “It certainly has more meaning.”

“As I placed the photos of the soldiers on the ornaments I said their names and read their stories. I don’t want to forget them,” Anna said.

The idea of the tree came to Anna after she was invited to send an ornament for Chris by Patti Rios Smith and the Gold Star Families of Illinois for a Hero Tree put on display at their state capitol rotunda in 2016.

No Gold Star Families organization exists in the state.

Anna said displaying the tree at the state Capitol would be nice, but not this year.

“I really wanted to keep it here close to me this year,” Anna said. “Maybe it can go to the Capitol next year.”

The tree, which swivels, is periodically turned, so the pictures of all the soldiers can be seen from the street.

Anna also fundraises for The Sgt. Chris Workman Memorial Scholarship Fund and other projects that memorialize Idaho’s soldiers who never came home.

The scholarship gave out $8,000 this year. Fundraising helps keep her mind off the tragic side of why the scholarship exists.

The holiday season is especially painful, she said.

“The loss of a child is excruciating no matter what the circumstances, and the holiday season is a brutal time of year for those parents,” Anna said.

Chris entered the military later in life at age 29.

His age, Anna said, made him more mature than the other soldiers and they looked up to him for advice.

Chris graduated from Minico High School in 1997 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business finance in 2005. His first taste of the military was with the Idaho National Guard. He joined the Army in 2009.

He was trained in chemical, biological and hazardous materials and was assigned to the 72nd Chemical Company at Schofield/Wheeler Air Force Base in Hawaii and deployed with the 2025 Light Aviation Division as a door gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter.

He was four months into his deployment when the helicopter crashed during a support mission to a suicide bombing site to pick up injured Iraqi soldiers.

They were only one minute and 30 seconds into their flight.

Jerusalem violence puts damper on Christmas in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — It was a subdued Christmas Eve in the historic birthplace of Jesus on Sunday, with spirits dampened by recent violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Crowds were thinner than previous years, with visitors deterred by clashes that have broken out in recent weeks between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Although there was no violence Sunday, Palestinian officials scaled back the celebrations in protest. Cool weather, and a rainy forecast, also weighed on the holiday cheer.

Claire Degout, a tourist from France, said she would not allow Trump’s pronouncement, which has infuriated the Palestinians and drawn widespread international opposition, affect her decision to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.

“The decision of one man cannot affect all the Holy Land,” she said. “Jerusalem belongs to everybody, you know, and it will be always like that, whatever Trump says.”

Trump abandoned decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and saying he would move the American Embassy to the holy city.

Trump said the move merely recognizes the fact that Jerusalem already serves as Israel’s capital and that he was not prejudging negotiations on the city’s final borders. But Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, saw the declaration as unfairly siding with Israel. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject Trump’s decision.

The announcement triggered weeks of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including near-daily clashes in Bethlehem, which lies just south of Jerusalem.

By midafternoon, hundreds of people had gathered in Manger Square near the city’s main Christmas for celebrations, greeted by bagpipe-playing young Palestinian marching bands and scout troops. Accompanying the decorations was a large banner protesting Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman, said celebrations were toned down because of anger over Trump’s decision.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” he said.

Next to the square was a poster that read “Manger Square appeal” and “#handsoffjerusalem.”

“We want to show the people that we are people who deserve life, deserve our freedom, deserve our independence, deserve Jerusalem as our capital,” he said.

The Most Rev. Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of Jerusalem, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crossed through an Israeli military checkpoint to enter Bethlehem from Jerusalem. His black limousine was escorted by a group of men on motorcycles, some of them wearing red Santa hats.

Pizzaballa, who last week rejected the U.S. decision, tried to steer clear of politics. He waved to the crowd, shook hands and hugged well-wishers as he walked to the Church of the Nativity, where he was to celebrate Midnight Mass.

“I already said the message. Now it’s time to enjoy,” he said. “We as Christians we will enjoy, despite all the difficulties we have. Merry Christmas.”

James Thorburn, a visitor from London, said he was determined to enjoy the holiday and show solidarity with Bethlehem’s residents.

“I know that a lot of people did cancel,” he said. “I felt I should come to support the Palestinians.”