Heffrons host 34th annual holiday open house
What began 34 years ago at Newton Lodge has become a Beaver Dam tradition.
The Christmas Open House, at what has more recently been known as Heffron White House, 112 Washington St., is set from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Parking is available in the nearby Beaver Dam Police Department lot.
The building is a local landmark, probably built as a private home in the 1860s. After a series of additions and changes in ownership, it became Newton Lodge, a hotel/rooming house. In 1946, it was purchased by Lawrence and Laura Heffron, who eventually renamed it to reflect their ownership.
“My dad said, ‘Heffron pays the mortgage, not Newton,’ and it has been the Heffron White House ever since,” said Tom Heffron, who moved into the family home in 1985.
Tom is an inveterate toy collector, and a firm believer in spreading the joy of the holidays. He gathers special gifts for children who attend the open house, and for those who attend the Beaver Dam Area Orchestra Concert, which is this year scheduled for Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m. (a shorter family concert) and at 7:30 p.m. (the full concert) in the Beaver Dam High School Auditorium.
Tom’s wife, Judy, plays in the orchestra. She retired as a music teacher in the Beaver Dam Area School District, and is now working to establish “One Voice,” the Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre Children’s Chorus. Registration is currently underway.
Christmas has always been special to the Heffrons.
“My dad was asked to play Santa on an aircraft carrier during World War II, and he kept it up after he got home from the service,” Tom said. “There were very few opportunities then to visit with Santa in Beaver Dam. My aunt made his first costume using velvet curtains. My brother and I started playing elves in 1952. We also did parties and stopped at nursing homes and the hospital — including Christmas Eve.
“In the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Chamber of Commerce hosted Santa downtown, along with the Northside Businessmen’s Association in the old Howard Ford Garage. The line of kids went out the back.
“When we returned home, we restarted the tradition and our children were the elves — only a lot cuter. Now grandchildren, nieces, nephews and our kids’ friends do the job.”
For some years now, Tom’s brother and sister-in-law, Bob and Gerri Heffron, have played Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Generations of area citizens have enjoyed the annual visit with Santa and Santa’s little helpers.
“We see the kids and grandkids of people who have come to the open house over the years,” Tom said. “We’re happy to maintain a tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season here in Beaver Dam.”
Tom scours area retail stores to gather enough of the gifts for everyone, and considers them his annual gift to the community. Each child receives a Christmas stocking and a small gift and everyone gets a free candy cane.
“It doesn’t matter if they’ve been naughty or nice this past year,” Tom said. “Everybody’s treated the same.”
Children and parents of all ages are welcome to join in the fun, and to have their pictures taken with Santa, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman. The characters are portrayed by friends and family, with Fred Minnig as Rudolph and Kathy Armstrong as Frosty.
“Everyone is invited to attend this free event,” Tom said. “Even though there may be a line, don’t be discouraged. Santa makes sure that the experience is magical for each and every child.”