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Angie Wieck, Published December 12 2012

Santa’s helper to retire

FARGO – After 17 years as Santa’s helper, Luann Gross will retire in January from the U.S. Postal Service in downtown Fargo.

Since 1995, Gross has helped Santa answer letters mailed to the North Pole from children in Fargo and surrounding communities.

Gross has enjoyed her time working with Santa and will fondly remember several letters she’s received over the years.

“I guess the ones I remember the most are from kids who ask for things for other people and not so much for themselves,” she said, “or those who ask for just one thing instead of pages and pages of requests. Those letters stand out. Those kids are really special.”

Postal workers occasionally have pooled money to purchase gifts for children who mail a particularly heartfelt letter, she said. A mail carrier will then deliver those gifts anonymously on Christmas Eve.

Gross has worked for the Postal Service since 1984, and became one of Santa’s helpers when Fargo began taking part in the USPS Letters to Santa program, which celebrates its 100th national anniversary this year.

Starting in 1912, local postmasters were authorized to let postal employees and citizens help Santa respond to letters.

It is up to individual postmasters to determine how to answer letters. The role is often assumed by employees at smaller post offices who have more time. Santa’s helpers in Audubon, Minn., handle letters sent to the Moorhead Post Office.

While many children likely think a return address isn’t necessary for a letter addressed to the man who sees and hears all, elves like Gross are only able to reply to letters that include complete and legible mailing information.

She replies to about 100 to 150 letters a year, down considerably from the 300-plus letters she replied to when she started in 1995.

She attributed the decline to the number of outside organizations that collect and reply to letters to Santa today.

Another reason is likely Santa’s increased online presence. All one has to do is Google “email Santa” to find websites that offer a direct link to St. Nick. Many even offer to send parents and other relatives a copy of the child’s wish list so they can buy and track any presents Santa doesn’t deliver himself.

Smartphone apps also help children communicate with Santa. Some include features such as voice recognition, holiday music, games and a direct link to the official “NORAD Tracks Santa” website.

For those who prefer putting pen to paper, Gross believes Santa will appoint a replacement next year to carry on the tradition at the Fargo Post Office.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501