Christmas cheer comes early

Staff photo by Gage Cureton Mark Blekestad, who’s alter ego is Santa Clause, laughs as he listens to Brock Nelson, 3, as him and sisters Josie, 7, and Becca, 5, visit with Blekestad at the Santa in the Summer fundraiser at the Brown County Fairgrounds Tuesday. Blekestad has donned the red suit for nearly 30 years, but at Tuesday’s fundraiser, he wore something much cooler.

NEW ULM — Christmas cheer came early Tuesday as the New Ulm Sertoma Club held its annual Santa in the Summer fundraiser at the Brown County Fairgrounds.

Mark Blekestad, whose alter ego is none other than Kris Kringle, brought early Christmas cheer to kids and families at the fundraiser.

Blekestad said he’s donned the red suit and attended charitable fundraisers and events for nearly 30 years.

He said taking up the mantle of Saint Nick is one of the greatest gifts life has given him and it allows him the opportunity to touch people’s lives in a positive way. The reason he does it, Blekestad said, is simple.

“Just to meet the people,” he said. “To see the sparkle in kids’ eyes.”

Blekestad attends dozens of public and private showings every year, including Breakfast with Santa in Eagle Lake, Santa in the Summer in New Ulm and the Razzle Dazzle Celebration in Madelia. It will be his 20th year attending the latter event.

He said one event he goes to, an open house at SouthPoint Financial, can draw as many as 300 people, and he uses the opportunity to listen to kids.

“You have to listen. This is not an easy world to live in,” Blekestad said. “You have to be a good Santa, and I don’t know how good I am, but to be a good Santa you have to listen to the children.”

Blekestad also attends family Christmas parties and gatherings, but said he never seeks compensation. “Doing strictly volunteer work,” he usually jokes with families before he leaves.

“I’m not for hire,” he said. “But I’ll usually tell the families I’ll take one Christmas cookie on the way out.”

However, Blekestad said he hasn’t always been bringing cheer and joy to the masses.

Blekestad, a recovering alcoholic, said everything changed in 1984 when he showed up to his sister-in-law’s Christmas party.

He said he was struggling with alcohol abuse at the time and he had been drinking heavily before the party.

When Blekestad arrived to the party, his sister-in-law, Sandy, took him into a back room and told him to put on a Santa Claus suit.

“She didn’t give me a choice,” he said. “She said ‘you will put the suit on.'”

After donning the suit Blekestad said something sparked inside him. He went on to receive treatment for alcoholism and he’s now been sober for decades.

If it weren’t for Sandy, he said he wouldn’t be where he’s at today.

“If somebody told me you’re going to put a suit on [at the party], I would have never showed up,” Blekestad said. “But there was something that just started working, and I’ve always had a gift to give.”

Santa in the Summer is an annual fundraiser organized by the New Ulm Sertoma Club. All proceeds help support Santa’s Closet which gives away toys to over 300 families in Brown County during the Christmas season.

Gage Cureton can be emailed at gcureton@nujournal.com.