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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

The First Santa Claus Girl

by Dick Harms

After Arthur H. Vandenberg, editor of the Grand Rapids Herald, agreed to support Adriana VanDoorn’s plan, she enlisted the aid of nine fellow Park Congregational Sunday school teachers: Estelle Bennett, Hazel Closterhouse, Martha Clay, Corrinne Ferris, Helen Dudley, Anna Whitcomb, Hazel Elliott, Gertrude Mehrtens, and Ruby Ferris. Each of the ten women pledged to collect $1.00. The total amount was almost equal to the average $11.50 weekly wage of local factory workers. Because of the support from the Herald, through new stories and editorials highlighting the need and the voluntary response, the ten women became popularly know as the Herald’s Santa Claus Girls.

The community also responded, By Christmas Eve, cash donations totaled $85, with merchandise increasing the value collect to more than $200—20 times the amount VanDoorn had hope to raise. Among the donations were 25 dolls, dressed by the girls of the YWCA, eight pairs of shoes and rubbers, six sleds, four doll carriages, 14 pairs of boys’ pants, five wool dresses, eight suits of children’s underwear, 12 pairs of stockings, two blouses, three pairs mittens, two phoenix mufflers, three sweaters, four doll carriages, eight trains, a dozen rubber balls, a dozen dolls’ chairs, six sets of dishes, eight children’s rocking chairs, two dozen games, two dozen books, four mechanical tops, and the National Candy company donated 30 pounds of fine confections.

Approximately 150 children received gifts that were delivered between 5 and 7 o’clock by four automobiles. Cars loaned were: a Franklin by Orin Stair and driven by John Vasblan; a Ford by W. S. Farrant, driven by Mort Thompson; the Buick Motor Co. car was driven by Fred Finch; and W.D. Vandecar loaned a Reo, chauffeured by Tom Ferrin.

Although VanDoorn had accomplished much with her assistants, she was not yet done. At 10 p.m. that night she received a telephone call that a terminally ill young boy desperately wanted a Christmas tree with ornaments. She and the other Santa Girls set out to find a tree and ornaments, no small task at that late hour. The next morning the delighted boy awoke to find the trimmed tree at his bedside.

Although VanDoorn, now Mrs. Ralph Marrin, moved west in 1910 because of ill health, the organization she began continued. When she visited the city in 1948 she was delighted that the Santa Claus Girls were still at work. She return to Grand Rapids permanently around 1959 and was usually featured in the Press in November when the Christmas season started for the Santa Claus Girls on Thanksgiving Day. Adriana VanDoorn Marrin died January 1, 1964.

Excerpted from “The First Santa Claus Girl” by Dick Harms, Grand Rapids Magazine, Dec. 1995, pg 25, and the Grand Rapids Herald, December 25, 1908, page 4

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