As a boy, Lacey Fire District 3 Lt. Pat Harn would stand among a crowd of children, eyes wide in anticipation of Santa Claus making his big appearance at the South Sound Mall in Lacey.
What made it all the more magical was exactly how well Santa knew him.
“He was always asking about the chores that didn’t get done,” Harn said. “I thought, ‘Man, this guy is real.’”
It gave Harn the incentive to step up his game as Christmas drew near in hopes of avoiding the list of those who’ve been naughty.
Little did he know, the lap that young Harn sat in every year was his father’s. His father, Tom Harn, has dressed as Santa for 35 years.
The elder Harn first donned a red suit as a senior at Saint Martin’s College, at a priest’s request. It wasn’t until he met Freeman Rose, a well-known local Santa, that the idea of being Santa on regular basis stuck.
His wife sewed a red suit and Harn popped out the lenses of gold-rimmed glasses to put at the end of his nose.
Some of the kids notice the lenses are missing.
“I tell them I was loading my sleigh and my reindeer stepped on them and busted the lenses out,” Harn said. “I just hadn’t had time to get them fixed.”
Harn is at the ready to answer any question the children lob at him, such as why he shows up on top of a Lacey Fire District 3 engine instead of a sleigh.
“I say, ‘Look outside; there is no snow here,’” Harn said. “It hurts the reindeer’s feet with no snow, so we leave them up at Mount Rainier and the fire department comes and gets me.”
In his decades of playing Santa, Harn said, his fondest memory was having his own children sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.
Harn was a probation officer with various side jobs as a mechanic; it wasn’t odd to his kids that Dad was never able to come when they visited Santa.
Santa doesn’t appear at the South Sound Mall, now known as South Sound Center, but he still makes sure to ride on the back of the Lacey fire truck for its annual delivery run.
Each year the department spends thousands of dollars and adopts one family from each of the district’s schools, buying presents and delivering them a few days before Christmas with funds from the Lacey Firefighters Charity.
They spent $6,000 to $7,000 buying gifts Saturday. Funds are raised during the annual Fire and Ice basketball game between the Lacey fire and police departments, as well as individual donations.
Each game brings in $4,000 to $6,000, depending on the turnout. All the proceeds go to families who’ve fallen on hard times.
Pat Harn said funding wasn’t as lucrative this year, so they had to tap into some money carried over from previous years. Yet demand for their charity continues to rise.
The families are also getting larger as immediate families may now include aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents under the same roof.
The largest family receiving gifts this year has 19 people living in one house. Another has 15 members and a third family has 13.
With the increased demand, Harn was relieved to get a call from the National Guard, which had 15 to 20 extra boxes of toys for them.
Harn said they are looking to possibly spend less on each family next year, allowing them to help out more total families.
“Instead of focusing on one family from each school, we want to try to reduce the cost and spread it out a little more,” he said.
The firefighters meet with the school counselors to identify the families most in need of help.
“It fluctuates on different years, but we are definitely seeing more and more,” Harn said. “They say I can give you one family, but I probably have 100 families that need it.”Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 email@example.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer