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Bringing the gift of magic - and toys

December 6, 2018

La PORTE — Back in the late ’60s, a young Matt Kalita was sitting in the audience of the La Porte County Sheriff’s annual Christmas Show.

On stage was Mr. T, as magician Bob Taylo was known then.

For the entertainment of the audience, Mr. T cut a clothesline in half, tied both parts together, then “magically” made it whole again, tossing the finished product into the audience.

Catching it was Kalita.

On Wednesday, Kalita said he felt a magical connection when he grabbed that rope, as if the power of Mr. T went into him. The event inspired him to take up magic himself, leading to performances in Las Vegas, on TV and even in film.

It also encouraged him to take on the Sheriff’s Christmas Show, where he’s been performing for 15 consecutive years.

On Saturday, he will return, assisted by his daughter Mya, when the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department presents the 55th annual show at the Boston Middle School Auditorium at 1000 Harrison St. in La Porte.

Featuring Kalita, “Master of Magic and Escape,” the show will present feats of illusion, escape and other magic, starting at 10 a.m. Doors open at 9 a.m.

“I just enjoy watching the reactions of the kids and their families,” Kalita said about why he keeps coming back, “and the look on their faces. A lot of the kids don’t have much. And I enjoy making them excited.”

He said children may see vanishing acts; birds appearing from nowhere; and a routine called “instant magician,” in which a member of the audience gets up on stage, dresses like a magician and performs a trick – with Kalita’s assistance.

And, if conditions are right, an audience member may even levitate.

But the show will offer more than magic. There will be an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus, gifts for all the children, and a balloon artist crafting animals and other creations.

Sheriff John Boyd said he wants to make sure every child has a traditional Christmas.

“We want to provide them a couple hours of entertainment where they can forget about any troubles going on in their lives,” he said, “so they can leave with a smile on their face and a warm feeling in their hearts, knowing people are thinking of them and care for them, especially the deputies at the sheriff’s office.”

The show is free and open to all kids. No child will be turned away, Boyd said.

According to Chief Deputy Ron Heeg, every child in attendance will receive a free book, a choice of toy, and a bag of goodies. They’ll also have a chance to visit with Santa and Mrs Claus after Kalita’s show, and get their picture taken with the Jolly Old Elf.

“We do it for a couple reasons,” Heeg said. “One, for the children. All of them get a toy and a book and the magic show.

“But all of this is put together and sponsored by donations and any excess donation money not spent goes to the Neil Thompson Memorial Scholarship. Neil Thompson is the only La Porte County Sheriff’s deputy killed in the line of duty. The scholarship is given out every year. I think we average five per year. And each recipient gets $1,500.”

Heeg said donations are collected throughout the year for the show.

On average, about 200 deserving children from across La Porte County attend the show each year. Each receives gifts, snacks and candy, and unclaimed gifts are distributed to local churches and charitable organizations to ensure that others in need will benefit.

“It’s a great program for two reasons,” Heeg said. “One, it further supports the Neil Thomson Scholarship, but it’s also just a good program for the children in the county. Most of the kids that come are underprivileged and this may be the only toy they get.”

The sheriff’s department has been able to continue the program because of the financial support of La Porte County businesses, citizens and industry, Heeg said.

Boyd said the show was initiated by Sheriff Clifford Arnold in 1963, and has continued to grow through the years, largely through the support of past sheriffs and the community.

Over the years Boyd said he’s been visited by grandparents who said they grew up attending the show, and were now bringing their grandkids. He said that speaks volumes.

“A lot of programs come and go, but for this to endure for 55 years is remarkable.”

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