DECATUR — It's been said that behind every great man is a great woman, and so it is with Mrs. Claus, her husband readily agrees.
“The kids like it when she’s there,” said Decatur’s downtown Santa Claus, who hears children's wishes every Christmas season in his Central Park House. “They feel more comfortable around her.”
“I am the first thing they see when they open the door,” his wife said.
Christmas stories from days of old have given her various names, including Jessica, Mary and Carol. Decatur’s Mrs. Claus is better known the rest of the year as Jody Stephens. Her husband, Jerry Stephens, asked her to join him a couple of years ago while he portrayed Santa Claus. She has been a favorite ever since.
Jerry Stephens has donned the red suit for nearly 20 years. Since Jody Stephens has operated a day care for four decades, the new job was a natural fit.
“You have to have a love for children,” she said.
Not only does she have a fondness for little ones, Jody Stephens also has a respect for them. She believes the kids recognize when Santa and Mrs. Claus are impostors.
“They have that insight,” she said. “They know he is a true Santa at heart.”
Mrs. Claus is a pro, too.
“Somehow, that grandma thing comes through,” she said.
Always ready with a hearty "ho ho ho," Santa can be a little scary for the children, the couple admits.
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“That is a deep 'ho ho ho',” Jody Stephens said. “I just tell them, ‘He chews a little, but doesn’t bite’.”
Santa has his way of charming the children as well. According to his wife, he carries candy canes with him no matter where he goes.
Jarrod Cox, director of conventions and events with the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, appreciates the couple working together. They spend hours each day as long lines of children with their families eagerly await their opportunity to affirm their place on the "nice" list and offer Santa their own list of desired toys.
“She adds a traditional feel to the Santa house,” he said. “She is a lot of fun and is great with the kids.”
Cox has invited others to help Santa when Mrs. Claus is not available. Community organizations and businesses will be dressed for the holidays with hats or sweaters or may wear company logos. Sponsors for the Decatur downtown holiday events and decorations have titled this year’s festivities “Deck the Town.”
Although he is grateful of the assistance of others, Cox enjoys Mrs. Claus’ presence in the Santa house.
“If there is a line she keeps them calm,” he said. “And they have big smiles when they see her.”
Jody Stephens considers those smiles a reward, as well as the children’s wide eyes and bright faces when they see Santa for the first time.
Olivia Reyes is seven years old. She understands how important Mrs. Claus is to the holidays. “She makes cookies,” Olivia said. “And she helps the elves.”
Mrs. Claus may be a jolly, fun-loving sort, which is a good pair with her husband, but she is also ready with words of advice for the children, which can help the parents as well. Jody Stephens often overhears children with gift requests they are not ready for, such as a cellphone or puppy. She doesn’t hide anything from them and will explain the responsibility involved with these types of gifts.
As the keeper of the "nice" and "naught lists, “I also tell them they have to clean their room and not fight with their brothers and sisters,” she said.