Santa’s helpers |

Santa’s helpers

Santa, aka Johnie Rosenfeld, waits to board his "sleigh," an Eagle River Fire Protection District fire truck from which he delivers presents from the Minturn Community Fund to children Tuesday in Minturn.
Dominique Taylor | |

MINTURN — You don’t ask how Santa got in the house, you’re just glad he did.

In Minturn, for example, Santa started in the historic Turntable restaurant and made his way through town, passing out presents.

“This is Christmas. This is what it’s all about,” said Nancy Hassett, of the Minturn Community Fund.

Hassett put together a benefit for the Minturn Community Fund. They raised thousands of dollars in one night for one specific purpose — to buy as many Christmas presents as possible for as many kids as they could.

In other words, they raised it to give it away.

Santa was everywhere on Christmas Eve, especially around Minturn. Santa, by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Johnie Rosenfeld, of Johnie’s Garden. But it’s probably just a coincidence.

At first, Santa was riding around in a fire truck from the Eagle River Fire Protection District. He made one stop on that truck, but Santa’s other helpers, firefighters, were called to the scene of an accident.

So Santa jumped into a town of Minturn truck and kept on trucking.

“My elves are working overtime so I could do this,” Santa said.

Rounding up helpers

In the western end of the valley, the Eagle Masonic Lodge and the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District have been some of Santa’s most energetic helpers for almost two decades.

Sometimes folks need Santa’s helpers to reach out with a helping hand.

“They don’t need charity. They just need a little help,” said Jon Asper, who still helps coordinate the effort and retired as the Eagle fire chief last year.

Almost two decades ago, the Colorado Air National Guard’s HAATS folks were working with some local families and saw the need. They’re action-oriented, and it didn’t take them long to stuff some toys into trucks and helicopters — which they used because they were fresh out of sleighs pulled by reindeer.

It grew from year to year. The HAATS folks were doing this in their spare time — and they don’t have any more spare time than you do.

So they wandered over to the Eagle fire department and asked Asper for a little help. He was happy to give it.

Asper is an irresistible force of nature.

People ask Asper for all sorts of things, mostly some sort of help. Coming up with help seems to be one of his spiritual gifts.

The firefighters and HAATS folks worked together, then the Eagle fire department took it over and emergency service workers from all over got on board. Asper got the Eagle Masonic Lodge involved, and the thing expanded to include the Masons and the Salvation Army.

The Masons and Asper don’t ask a lot of questions about why people need help. Folks just do, and that’s enough.

“You’d be shocked about who needs help with food or toys but doesn’t want to ask because they used to make good money and now they don’t,” Asper said.

Working the network

The network works if you work it.

Asper knew Mike Montag through the Eagle fire department and the Masonic Lodge. Montag was working with Larry Mathis who spotted Montag’s Masonic ring and asked him about the annual Masons and firefighters toy drive.

“Do you think you could use a donation of toys?”

Why yes, Montag responded.

So, Larry and Beth Mathis donated what we’ll call a “significant” bunch of toys.

“Now that we have a home here we wanted to help the people of Eagle County,” Larry said.

The Masons added bicycles to the mix. They take used bikes in pretty good shape, repair them and tune them up, then give them away to kids who need them.

Not just anyone can wander in and get toys, Montag said. They get lists from the Salvation Army. They have their own lists, and some people are referred from other places.

“Someone has to tell them about it, and we do ask how they found out about us,” Montag said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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