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Hardwick passes Santa magic to next generation

Rodger and Dianne Ossenfort mark 30 years as community jolly couple
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Mavis Fodness

Nic Johnson first met Santa at age 1.
Saturday, at age 26, Johnson didn’t feel too old to greet and have his picture taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the annual Hardwick Santa Day.
Except now he knows the Christmas couple by their real names, Rodger and Dianne Ossenfort.
Despite knowing the Ossenforts are not the real Santa and Mrs. Claus, he wasn’t shy about making a Christmas present request.
With a wide grin Johnson told the Clauses, “I want two tractors.”
The same holiday delight was passed on by mom Amber Hoogestraat to her own children, Elliot (9), Hudson (6) and Cooper (4).
As a child, Hoogestraat (nee Weinkauf) recalls the many Decembers going with her two sisters for a magical meeting with Santa on Main Street Hardwick.
“We attended many, many years,” she said. “Such great memories that I love to pass on to my children.”
This year everyone received socially distanced greetings from Santa and Mrs. Claus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hardwick Community Club, the organizer of the annual event, moved all activities outside the community center to meet the state’s health guidelines.
Instead of up-close greetings from Santa and Mrs. Claus, the 80 children who participated in the hourlong event looked up to the Ossenforts, who stood on the deck of the community center while greeting visitors below.
Instead of having children sit on their laps for holiday pictures, children stood on the sidewalk with the Christmas couple above them on the deck.
The Ossenforts are now entering their third decade portraying the yuletide couple.
“Some things were definitely different this year,” Dianne said. “We just do what we have to do.”
The couple didn’t make personal stops to area nursing homes, hospitals or make personal visits to individual homes.
Last week in Luverne the couple talked with 18 children via Zoom.
Hardwick Santa Day was the couple’s last public appearance of the season.
Even though it was conducted outside, Dianne said each child got a special greeting and individual time with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The Ossenforts were comfortable in the 20-degree weather as they waited for children to exit vehicles and come up to the deck.
Many sported smiles and were ready to tell Santa what they want for Christmas.
“I think it was a great day and I loved the heater,” Dianne said.
A portable heater was hidden behind the deck railing to ward off the day’s wind chill.
Keeping with Hardwick Santa Day tradition, each child received a bag filled with holiday treats – and  this year, a craft item they can assemble at home.

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