Santa Claus comes to the Billy Graham Center

12.13.18

By Micah McIntyre

In the gray, dimly lit Billy Graham Center (BGC) Archives office, dozens of bright red Santas, paper wall decorations and Christmas booklets filled the long table at the center of the room. In a few hours, they would all have new homes throughout campus, but at one point, they were all part of a one man’s Christmas collection.

William George Shuster, a Wheaton College alumnus from Hatboro, Pa., began collecting Santa figures and other Christmas memorabilia in the mid-60s, according to his brother, Bob Shuster.

“George had a wide variety of interests. One thing he was very interested in was ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, but also Santa. He had figures and books and bells and magnets and all kinds of things.” Part of the joy he found in his collection was being able to share it with others. “Every Christmas he would set up around his home back in Pennsylvania. Friends and family would come over and see them and it became an annual event. He just loved the season, the holiday and Santas.”

Last year, however, George passed away, leaving his collection in the hands of his brothers, Bob and Ron Shuster, who wondered what they could do with such a large amount of memorabilia. George had amassed enough books, artwork and figures from “A Christmas Carol” that they were able to donate it to DePaul University who were happy to add it to their Charles Dickens collection.

“The Santa Clauses … we didn’t quite know what to do with those. So we decided the best way to continue the joy and happiness George always had for them was to give them away to people who would like them and use them.”

Before long, every single item on the table had been taken by what Bob estimated to be about 50 Wheaton students, faculty and staff. Melinda Schmidt, in the Leadership, Evangelism & Ministry Programs office, took home a set of six tall, skinny Santa statues and plans to use them for place settings at Christmas or will have some fun and hide them around the house for people to find. “I just like the meaning behind it,” she said. “They need to keep having life and meaning in other people’s lives.” Just one story up, in the Office of Development and Gift Planning Services, Tracy Collins took a variety of trinkets and wall decorations that are now prominently on display at the entrance to the office. She appreciated being able to “add a little Christmas to the office because we don’t usually buy things for the office.” In addition to being scattered across the BGC, the little Santas can be found in the Registrar office, the Welcome Center and in dorms and apartments across campus.

The only things that remain are three figurines that Bob kept for himself to remember his brother by: two small porcelain figures of St. Nicholas and a figurine of the Ghost of Christmas Present. “What I will always remember in relation to [these figures] is George’s love of Christmas, which is a reflection of his greater Christian faith.”

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