Standing Ovation

Santa Claus has a lot of names to add to his nice list this Christmas.

Thanks to an outpouring of community support and donations, the Santa statue that once welcomed visitors to Evansville via U.S. Highway 41 again is greeting travelers. On Sept. 25, the community gathered to watch the refurbished Santa hoisted back to a standing position behind Peckenpaugh Plumbing & Custom Remodeling, 11812 U.S. Highway 41 N.

The statue was taken down many years ago. No one knew of its whereabouts until Evansville resident Ron McKeethen discovered the dilapidated Santa in December last year while traveling rural parts of northern Vanderburgh County. The community rallied around McKeethen and his plea to help stand Santa back up.

“I got into this so my grandkids will have the same feeling I did when they drive by him,” says McKeethen, who spearheaded the restoration project with the help of Oakland City, Indiana, resident and sculptor Bob Zasadny. “It’s been an icon in Evansville.”

Restoring the 34-foot-tall, 2,500-pound Santa was no small feat. Santa’s paint faded and he nearly was split in half. After years as a bird sanctuary, several hundred pounds of bird droppings were removed from Santa’s boots. After transportation to a vacant warehouse on the West Side, Santa’s exterior was sandblasted to raw fiberglass, the hole in his back was repaired, and finally, he received a new coat of urethane epoxy paint to withstand the elements.

Zasadny says a lot of people doubted the restoration effort would come to fruition, but he always believed in Santa.

“They saw it as an impossible task,” says Zasadny. “However, ‘can’t’ and ‘not’ aren’t a part of my vocabulary. Anything is possible.” McKeethen continues to dream.

“I’d love to see the mayor make him a landmark,” says McKeethen. “Not historic, but a piece of Evansville.”

For more information about Stand Santa Back Up, visit the Facebook page by the same name. To make a donation, visit the page or make a donation at any Old National Bank.

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