Mrs. Claus spreads cheer year-round
BLACKSBURG — It’s often said that behind every great man, there is a great woman.
Jolly Old St. Nick is no exception, and Blacksburg’s Marian Kelso is making sure Christmas’ first lady stays plenty busy year-round.
For more than 20 years, the 87-year-old former primary school teacher has donned the red skirt, apron and white bonnet that make up the uniform of Mrs. Claus.
“Mrs. Claus gets old and just keeps going,” Kelso said.
Kelso, formerly of Alexandria, Va., said her career as Kris Kringle’s spouse began while working as the coordinator for volunteers at Alexandria Hospital. Kelso said that thanks to her love of children and her Mrs. Claus look, her and Santa’s appearance for the employees’ children soon became a yearly tradition.
The appearances also spilled over to Fairlington United Methodist Church, also in Alexandria. Kelso said her appearances at the church continue today, as she made the trip of more than 250 miles in December to play Mrs. Claus for more than 200 underprivileged children.
In September 2011, following the death of her husband, John, Marian Kelso moved to Blacksburg where her son, John Kelso, lives.
Mrs. Claus would soon follow.
John Kelso said a chance encounter with Blacksburg Vice Mayor Leslie Hagar-Smith led to the character’s first appearance in 2011 at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. Somehow the topic of Mrs. Claus was brought up, and Hagar-Smith passed along the idea of adding the character to the theater’s annual festivities to Downtown Blacksburg Inc.’s director, Laureen Blakemore, John Kelso said.
Blakemore said the addition of Kelso has been extremely helpful, especially when it comes to easing some children’s fears of Santa.
This was no surprise to Kelso, who said curing a phobia of Santa was one of her chief responsibilities.
“You know Santa’s scary for a baby, that beard and all,” Kelso said.
It was at the Lyric that Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam said he first encountered Mrs. Claus and decided she would also be a great addition to the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
“She takes it all very seriously, the responsibility of being Mrs. Claus and sharing that excitement with the children,” Rordam said.
It’s that shared excitement that Kelso said fuels her desire to continue the role each year.
“Being happy and being with the children, that’s the most fun,” Kelso said.
She added that it’s not just children who get into the act. Occasionally an adult will also join in the fun.
Such was the case during her latest appearance at Blacksburg United Methodist Church, where Kelso said the former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Virginia Tech, Minnis Ridenour, submitted a letter — which Kelso read to a crowd of children — asking for a dog.
“I could hear him laughing in the back,” she said.
Whether or not Ridenour had been good enough in 2012 to receive the dog could not be confirmed.
Of course, Mrs. Claus’ love for bringing joy to others doesn’t end with the Christmas season. Kelso said she is quick to transform back into “Ms. Marian” for her role as a Sunday School teacher at Blacksburg United Methodist and as a volunteer at Margaret Beeks Elementary School, where she often reads to students in the library.
Not one to sit still, Kelso is also a weekly volunteer at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery and the Blacksburg Interfaith Food Pantry. She walks two miles a day and said she recently started a Canasta club at Warm Hearth Village, where she lives.
While the Christmas season may come to an end each December, it seems the work of Mrs. Claus and/or Ms. Marian spans all 12 months of the year.
“I’m not going to stay home, my goodness, when there are things to do for the community,” Kelso said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643