For many, preparation for the Christmas season includes setting out figurines of Santa Claus, but one woman has taken that tradition to the extreme. In her lifetime, Wanda Emde has collected 1,659 Santa Claus figurines.
Emde believes her love for Santa Claus began when she was a child. She grew up during the Great Depression and said money was tight, but Santa Claus always came.
“He was always my favorite person,” Emde said. “We were poor so we really looked forward to Santa coming to visit us … All we got was a sock with an orange, apple and chocolate drop candy, but he came. He was dependable.”
Emde’s collection began with a personal piece made by her daughter Joy Jernigan in first grade.
“(Joy) made me a Santa full of construction paper and cotton balls and I kept it,” Emde said.
From there, the collection cgrew. Jernigan, said Emde particularly loves Santa Claus because he is always smiling.
“Santa Claus is a lot like Mickey Mouse,” Jernigan said. “You can’t look at Mickey Mouse and not smile. I think that is what Santa does to people.”
Emde’s other daughter, Kathy Lawson, said she believes the collection was her mother’s way of bringing people together.
“My mom loved to open up her house,” Lawson said. “She put up Santas everywhere, and people would come and visit. I think she loved when people visited almost as much as (she loved) the Santas. She wanted as many people to come as she could.”
Until last year, Emde’s entire collection was kept in her home. When she moved into Harding Place, she was unable to house all of her figurines. Emde wanted to keep the collection together, so she donated them to the Holiday of Lights organization in Searcy.
Last year the collection was displayed as an art exhibit at the Historic Black House. This year the collection has found a more permanent home at the Carmichael Community Center.
According to Lawson, there are 650 figurines at the Center with others spread throughout the community at banks and rest homes. Emde also donated her animated Santa Clauses to the Sunshine School.
According to Sally Paine, a teacher at the Sunshine School, the animated Santa Clauses given to the school are displayed in the front lobby.
“(Emde’s daughters) picked 10 that they thought our students would really enjoy and brought them to us,” Paine said. “And our students have really enjoyed them. We don’t let them play with them all at once, but we’ll pull one out and watch it for a little while then put it back and choose another.”
Paine said the Santa Clauses are especially beneficial to their nonverbal students.
“Our more typical students go ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and everything, but it’s really fun to watch some of our more involved and nonverbal students because their faces light up. It’s something they can immediately enjoy.”
Emde’s collection will be displayed through New Year’s. After the holidays, it will be collected and stored by Main Street Searcy until next Christmas.
Written by Dailey Thomas and Raianne Mason