2008-11-27 / Local & State

McCbg.'s Own Mr. & Mrs. Claus Stepping Down This Christmas

Nelson and Rachel DeShong hope to continue bringing cheer to area children next year
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

With their bellies full of turkey and trimmings as dusk descends on Fulton County Thursday evening, passing motorists and residents seeking an early dose of Christmas spirit will only be greeted by darkness at 1748 Lincoln Way West, Mc- Connellsburg.

Normally adorned with sparkling lawn ornaments and thousands upon thousands of festive lights, the home of James "Nelson" and Rachel DeShong, more commonly known this time of year as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, will remain unlit. The decision not to decorate their Todd Township residence, according to the DeShongs, was a difficult one for the married couple of 23 years but fueled solely by health issues.

In addition to halting their annual family tradition of lighting up the night sky, the DeShongs also sadly announced to the "News" last Friday they will not be able to greet the carloads of visitors that frequent their home on a yearly basis in hopes of getting an early gift request to Santa and Mrs. Claus to ensure their Christmas wish lists are filled.

The couple got their meager start, Nelson noted, through his wife's decorating skills. Standing behind a plastic Santa mask on their front porch, the couple fondly recalls, Nelson began waving at passersby slowing their automobiles to get a good look at their holiday display. They were surely startled when an arm protruded from behind the decoration and began waving at them, Nelson, now 64, said.

Eighteen years later, with the aid of a Santa suit borrowed from a neighbor and a new dress for Mrs. Claus, the couple has greeted thousands of adults and children, some hailing from as far away as England. Not only has their display of lights increased to well over 25,000, but their notoriety in the area has grown as well.

"We have parents stop in who used to come visit us as children. Now they're bringing their children to see us," said the DeShongs, who greet their young visitors with popcorn balls, candy canes and coloring books. Obtaining these sugary treats and books has turned Christmas into almost a year-round event as months in advance they begin placing orders to beat out larger orders submitted by grocery chains and stores such as Wal-Mart. Those routinely lending financial assistance with the DeShongs' venture are Peckie's Auto Body; Penn Rod and Gun Club; Dr. Gordon Kaiser; TruValue and various groups from JLG Industries.

In exchange for a photo opportunity with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a treat and the chance to share one's most hidden desires, the DeShongs routinely receive well wishes; the occasional treat - a coffee mug filled with candy or a steaming cup of hot coffee; and a warm, fuzzy feeling for bringing a little Christmas cheer to this small, rural community.

Five to six years ago, the DeShongs moved their holiday operation from the end of their driveway, where they encountered a variety of inclement weather ranging from snow and hard rain to heavy winds, to a much cozier spot inside their garage that would hardly be complete without a box to hold handwritten letters for Jolly Saint Nick. One of the most popular gift requests over the years has been a pony, but the most heart-wrenching request was a young teen who said she had all she needed but would like for her grandmother's cancer to go away.

"That really caught me off guard. When you get one like that, it's really hard to respond to. It still chokes me up to think about it," Nelson said.

"I've seen the kids run from the vehicle and jump onto Nelson's lap," said Rachel, 71. "It's just getting to be too much with Nelson's health and being out in the weather and the cold."

"We had planned on this Christmas being our last outing, but if everything goes well we'll resume our schedule for at least next year," stated Nelson, who added during their best years they greeted around 500 kids and strung approximately 25,000 lights. Their lone disappointment - not having a car counter for the bottom of their driveway to get an accurate visitor count.

With the DeShong family's Christmas being less festive than normal, the "News" is asking local residents and individuals who may have been touched at some point by the DeShongs' holiday spirit and giving nature to send the couple a letter or card over the holiday season. Whether it be a short note sharing why their family looks forward to a quick visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus and a glimpse of their holiday display or how their generosity has affected them, all correspondence and well wishes should be sent to Nelson and Rachel DeShong, 1748 Lincoln Way West, McConnellsburg, PA 17233.

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