Saturday, November 28, 2015

Santa makes grand airport entrance • Portage Municipal (C47), Columbia County, Wisconsin

Who’s that coming out of a Cessna 172N plane Friday at the Portage Municipal Airport? Why, it’s exactly who is expected by a throng of waiting adults and children — Santa Claus.

Santa who?

To watch and hear some youngsters Friday morning at the Portage Municipal Airport, you’d think that Portage’s public safety workers were the ones they’d come to see — not the jolly old red-clad, white-bearded man who emerged from a small private plane with a cry of “Ho-ho-ho!”

And, for some kids, the most enticing place to sit wasn’t on a bench beside Santa, but in the cab of a Portage fire engine.

Portage’s firefighters, police officers and police department volunteers are traditionally a ubiquitous presence at the annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving Santa Fly-In at the airport.

In the chilly, breezy moments before Santa’s plane could be seen in the southern sky, a cry frequently went up in a child’s voice: “Look! There’s a firefighter!”

Fern Westcott was only too happy to accord celebrity status to Portage Police Officer Jason Stenberg.

“Do you want to have your picture taken with the police officer?” she said to her grandchildren, 3-year-old Zoii Lappen and almost-5-year-old Chase Lappen.

They did — right beside Stenberg’s squad car.

“You know what?” Westcott said. “This is a nice time to reflect on what these guys do to help us.”

Westcott said she’s a great believer in teaching children, at a young age, that the police officer is their friend who’s there to help them, not a mean enforcer who’ll put children in jail if they’re naughty.

But Chase couldn’t help but notice the cage separating the squad car’s back seat from the front seat.

“The bad guys sit in the back,” he said solemnly.

With her Santa hat on and her eyes to the sky, 4-year-old Kinsley Benesh of Las Vegas watches the arrival of Santa Claus at the Portage Municipal Airport Friday, in the arms of her dad, Jim Benesh.

Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson stayed close to the fire engine that was parked at the airport, but he wasn’t on duty — not on firefighting duty, anyway. He was there, he said, in his capacity as grandfather, taking his grandkids to see Santa.

Still, he couldn’t help but notice how many youngsters waited for a turn to sit in the fire engine, even after Santa had arrived.

“Usually,” he said, “there’s only a couple kids who want to do that.”

It’s not that Santa was unpopular. Far from it.

Four-year-old Kinsley Benesh, who’s visiting from Las Vegas, turned her eyes to the sky when the plane was just overhead.

“Look, it’s a bird flying up in the air,” she said to her dad, Jim Benesh.

Then, remembering who was aboard, she said, “Oh, look! Santa! But ‘Santa’ actually starts with an S.”

After the plane landed, Santa emerged from the passenger seat, walked under the wing and opened his arms to the crowd.

“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! How is everybody?” he exclaimed.

The line of kids waiting to see Santa extended clear back to the fire engine and the squad car, but it was worth the wait.

When Santa lands at Portage, you see, he hands out full-size candy canes, not little dinky ones.

Friday would be a long day for Santa. A few hours after leaving the airport, he would climb aboard a float for Portage’s annual Holiday Lighted Parade through downtown.

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