Carmella McCart, a teacher at Weaver Elementary, spoke to the Natchitoches Lions Club at its meeting July 10 about the Maggio Family’s legacy: The Santa Claus House on the downtown riverbank. Carmella is one of many family members who have maintained the house in memory of Barry Gunter (SEE STORY BELOW).
She expressed her appreciation for the Lions Club for its help making sure there’s always a Santa in the house during the Christmas season.
Past President Tina Ragan presented Brandon McKee with a Membership Advancement Key pin for successfully opening the door of Lionism to at least two individuals. The pin recognizes his active commitment to the growth and strength of the organization.
The Santa Claus House: A Natchitoches Christmas Story
By Sadie Maggio Dark
Once upon a time, in a small town lived a mother, father and four children. One day, a week before Christmas, they closed their family business to go shopping in Shreveport, 60 miles away. Getting up early they took their two older children to school and with their four year old son, Barry, and baby daughter, Peggy, drove to the big city.
The first place they stopped was a large department store, and of course, sitting on a “throne” atop a brightly decorated Christmas platform, was Santa Claus. “Oh mama,” said the son excitedly, “Can I see Santa?” Since there was a long line of children waiting to see Santa, the mother answered, “Barry, let’s wait until we finish shopping, then we’ll come back to see him.”
Barry followed patiently while his mother and father did all their Christmas shopping. Then they hurried to return home, for they had to back in time to pick up their other two children at school.
Barry, seeing that they had left the city, said, “Mama, we forgot to see Santa.” The mother felt terrible and kept apologizing, but knew they didn’t have time to go back. Barry, seeing his mother so sad, said, “That’s all right Mama. I’ll see Santa next year.”
The following October, tragedy struck the family. Barry was taken from them.
The people in town were devastated. They contributed money for a memorial in Barry’s honor. The mother and father purchased two large swing sets; the seats shaped love horses. The City employees, on their own time, installed them in the children’s park on Amulet Street.
A few years later, going into town, the mother noticed the City workers stringing Christmas lights across Front Street. With Barry still close in her heart, she immediately drove to the Mayor’s Office. She said to the mayor, “If you build a Santa Claus house, I’ll see that Santa will be there every night during the festival season.” Then she told him the story of Barry not getting to see Santa.
While the house was being built, the mother went to the president of several men’s clubs asking is they would be responsible for Santa being there each night. They all said they would gladly help.
The mother, each year, provided a Santa Claus suit and candy canes for Santa to give to the children. Every morning she cleaned the house so it would be ready that night for Santa and the children.
Years later, when sickness made the mother unable to care for the house any longer, she asked one of her nieces to continue for her. The niece was a teacher so each day after school she would sweep the house, collect the children’s letter to Santa and saw they were “mailed” to the North Pole.
The niece carried on until she retires. Knowing that she would be visiting grandchildren who lived out of town and wouldn’t be able to be there most days, she asked another niece (Carmella McCart) is she would take care of the house.
Now, for over 50 years, the Santa Claus House opens each night from the Sunday after Christmas Festival Day to the day before Christmas Eve, so that no child in Natchitoches and the surrounding area, will ever have to say, “That’s all right Mama. I’ll see Santa next year.”