Courthouse Lighting/Santa House
It's a magical evening each year when the lights go on in front of Midland's courthouse and, for many children and adults, the holidays begin! Santa arrives each year in late November or early December, and stays until after his working hours on December 23. The lawn displays and lights continue through New Year's Day. The tradition began in the 1930s when Mrs. Herbert H. Dow made sure that small trees decorated with many tiny lights were placed around the Midland County Courthouse each Christmas season. According to those who remember, it was truly a lovely sight. Today the Midland Area Community Foundation continues the tradition by sponsoring, with earnings from the Gilbert and Eleanor Currie Christmas Lighting/Santa House Endowment Fund, the seasonal displays and the Santa House. Working in close cooperation with Midland County, the City of Midland, and numerous volunteers, the Foundation offers this experience as a gift to the people of the Midland area.
Before World War II (1941), the courthouse was a great deal smaller and Main Street considerably less populated. No large Methodist Church stood across the street. During those years, Mrs. Dow arranged for a display each season. During the war years there were no lights. Beginning in the late 1940s, Gil Currie and his friend Bob Wilson, who owned a business across the street, decided it was time for a holiday display once again. Gil and Bob, men who were still children at heart, loved Christmas lights and worked to establish a tradition which is still enjoyed today. By the 1950s, Main Street had changed and the courthouse expanded to its present size. Something unique was needed. Wally Bronner of Frankenmuth helped develop the ideas and sketched out a plan. There were many amusing tales surrounding the creating of the first displays - the time it took three trips to the forest and three trees before one was perfect enough for the center of the "traditional" section; the building of the first gingerbread house using the Currie children's toys; and the live deer that needed companionship during the night to keep them happy. Working quietly behind the scenes was Floyd Wenglikowski who sustained the glow of lights and maintained the displays. When the lights are turned on and the children's happy faces glow with excitement, the project is worth the hours of planning and effort. Enjoyment for the children has always been the project's main goal.
Santa House 1987 - Current
The permanent Santa House was built in 1987, thanks to the Midland Area Community Foundation and area donors. It features a slanted roof for reindeer take-offs and a bay window trimmed for the holidays. Its stucco and fieldstone exterior, approved by the Historical Commission, helps Santa's residence blend with the courthouse architecture. The house has electricity and heat, which Santa and his visitors appreciate. The building's interior is a magical mixture of multiple lofts, a fieldstone fireplace, and a Santa Chair. Throughout the house, elves are busy at work. Each season they are assigned new tasks. An authentic train, Christmas tree, and seasonal music add to the experiences of the house. Gerace Construction Company and other contractors built the house. Their arms were not twisted; they stepped forward when they heard about the project. Steve Barstow, Blasy Electric, Pat's Gradall, Haddix Lumber, 4-D Builders, Fisher Sand and Gravel, Brandle Roofing, Tamar Construction, France Electric, Cook's of Midland, The Dow Chemical Company, Ritter Signs, and anonymous donors all contributed. The permanent house was completed in 1987. Once completed, the Santa House was given to Midland County. It is leased back by the Midland Area Community Foundation, with the lease paying for the significant electrical and maintenance costs necessary to operate the house. In October, an international Santa Claus school is allowed to sublease the house for a few days. The creation of new displays and building maintenance are underway during the rest of the year.
For many years, a small group of Midlanders supported the project financially, making this display a special holiday gift to the community. Today the support comes mainly from an endowment created by Gil Currie, and from gifts to the fund by those citizens who enjoy the project.
Santa's Special Gift
From the time the permanent Santa House was first opened in 1987, Santa has provided to each visiting child with "A Walk Around Midland," a coloring book featuring drawings of projects and programs supported by the Midland Area Community Foundation. This was a great success, however, the Foundation felt that a change was needed to ensure smiling faces on kids and adults alike. In 2003, with the help of the Alden and Vada Dow Foundations, a new full-color storybook, "The Glow of Giving," was distributed at the Santa House as Santa's special gift. The story was filled with both fantasy and history, telling the story of the part Grace Dow played in the original courthouse lighting and how that has evolved. Our goals for this "collector's series" of books include creating pieces which provides an opportunity for adults and children to interact together, and which teaches a little about Midland history and about giving and volunteering. Between 10,000 and 11,000 story books were distributed at the Santa House in 2003; and we have received many positive comments about the concept - people have enjoyed the combination of history, philanthopy and volunteerism, and fantasy. "The Glow of Giving" was such a big hit with the kids that in 2004, we created a new book titled, "Bringing the Outside In." The book, dedicated to Alden B. Dow in celebration of what would be his 100th birthday, is a story of the young Alden and his adventure which eventually led to his architectural career. It's a mix of fantasy and fact, which will have child and adult alike smiling as they read through the colorful pages. In 2005, a new book was created celebrate the Tridge's 25th birthday and honor the important role Carl and Esther Gerstacker played in its beginnings. Combining both fact and fantasy, "The Great Razzleberry Rescue" is a fun-filled story of the community coming together to build the Tridge. Funding for the book was provided through a grant from The Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation. This year, children visiting the Santa House will receive a brand new book titled, "The Quiet Gift." This book is dedicated to the Trustees of the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, and is a story of Dr. Charles J. Strosacker and his many contributions to this community. Adults and children alike will enjoy this interactive book that focuses on landmarks that are still very much a part of the Midland community. "The Quiet Gift" was made possible through a grant from the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation.
Dow Glockenspiel Project
In honor of the celebration of the 100th Birthday of The Dow Chemical Company, a grant of almost $170,000 was made to the Midland Area Community Foundation by The Dow Chemical Foundation for the construction of an addition to the Santa House complete with clock and glockenspiel. At its dedication on May 18, 1997, it was noted that the starting of the clock marked the start of the second century of Dow's partnership with Midland.
Project of the Midland Area Community Foundation
Each year the Midland Area Community Foundation arranges for an opening ceremony, the arrival of Santa, and the courthouse yard displays in addition to the Santa House. Many volunteers assist our capable staff in making this project possible.