It’s their mission to make Santa stand back up again but as they were set to put in a day’s work on Thursday, a group of vandals had ransacked Santa’s workshop. Ron McKeethen and Bob Zasadny, the two volunteers who are determined to restore a historic, 34-foot-tall Santa statue, remain undeterred despite having nearly $1000 in power tools stolen and a work truck severely damaged.
When McKeethen arrived at the west side warehouse early Thursday morning, he noticed the front overhead door was open. Initially, he thought his cohort had beaten him to the job site.
McKeethen’s Ford Ranger was bottomed-out in a pit inside the warehouse. Fresh sets of tire tracks could be seen throughout the warehouse, indicating that the vandals used the truck for a joyride.
“They were doing their best’ Tokyo Drift’ impression,” McKeethen said. “It was very shocking that some kids would come in here and do this with what we’re trying to do for the community. This Santa means so much for so many people. Now, this little setback not only puts us back financially but it also sets us back in time that we could be working on Santa.”
Despite the inconvenience and the sheer loss of so many power tools, McKeethen did his best to find a silver lining.
At least the vandals didn’t target Santa.
If they had, they likely could have caused a significant amount of damage because the interior structure of the statue hasn’t been completed, McKeethen said.
“My first concern was not really so much about this old truck. It was for Santa.” McKeethen said. “We’re just praying that they don’t come back. The police officers have been out here. We’ve made reports. They did some crime scene [investigation]. We’ve got some good fingerprints. Let’s just hope they catch those responsible and make them come out like we do on this 94 degree weather days with high humidity and work on Santa.”
Having your workshop ransacked and equipment stolen would be enough to deter and discourage some people, but not McKeethen.
Christmas isn’t just a day on the calendar. It’s a state of mind.
“We’re working today, as you can tell by the sweat and dirt. We’re working today,” McKeethen said. “Santa will stand. We will get this project finished. He will stand.”
In order to prevent another burglary, McKeethen said he will secure the entrances and exits to the large warehouse, in addition to installing surveillance cameras around Santa. On Thursday afternoon, crews installed the wood support system before the interior is filled with foam. The installation of fiberglass and other exterior work will begin in the coming weeks, McKeethen said.
The truck will likely have to be totaled and has liability insurance. McKeethen said he will have the truck totaled and the proceeds will be donated back to the Stand Santa Back Up effort. The organization is still $3500 short of it’s goal, McKeethen said.
Eventually, the 2000 lbs. statue will be placed at the corner of Highway 41 near the 4H Fairgrounds.