Eighty-five-year-old George Workman smiles when he talks about the reaction from children visiting Santa’s Workshop in his garage on Lake Avenue in Kendallville.
“Their eyes get big and fixed on one thing. They’re fascinated. They just stare. I get a kick out of that,” he said.
Since 1988 the retired Kendallville firefighter has opened his garage door for a few hours each night during December to reveal a uniquely animated Christmas scene that has delighted and dazzled young and old who stop by.
The workshop exhibits have grown over the years. He started with a life-size Santa Claus playing an organ placed on his front porch next to the garage. Passersby slowed their vehicles and rolled down their windows to watch the illuminated Santa move his arms on the keyboard and listen to the Christmas music.
Workman noticed the interest and decided to add to his display. “I turned the Santa into Mrs. Claus and added a Santa (standing),” he said. Both figures are full-body mannequins. He then added a small Santa flying on a wire across the roof of his house.
Using plywood scraps from remodeling his home, Workman added elves to the scene and created a workshop in his garage. He moved Santa and Mrs. Claus and the organ into the garage and built and painted what became 13 different exhibits of elves working on different projects. Each elf has a tiny electric motor that controls its movements. “I used a pattern after the first one so the elves are alike,” he said.
There’s an elf blowing bubbles. “That’s one of the kids’ favorites,” said Workman. Other elves are sawing wood on a band saw, planing a two-by-four with an elf sweeping up the shavings, operating a drill press and a lathe, riding a bicycle and wrapping gifts. All the green-clad figures move with Christmas music filling the scene. Workman hung hand tools on the walls and even placed empty soft drink cans on the tables to give more of a workshop look.
Workman used wood-working skills he’s had since high school and electrical know-how to create a holiday event that attracts hundreds if not thousands of visitors each year. He’s content to greet the people and answer questions, but most park their vehicles in his driveway or along the street and quietly gather at the garage entrance to let the scene and music fill them with the Christmas spirit.
What inspired him to add to the community’s holiday spirit?
Workman recalled when he was a young boy his parents taking him to Fort Wayne to see the window displays at the former Wolf and Dessauer store during Christmas. “I always remembered that,” he said. After he retired he decided to use his spare time to recreate somewhat the kind of animated store window displays he remembered from his childhood.
He erects displays on special occasions including a country-western band during Apple Festival of Kendallville in October, and has photos posted in the garage showing his other displays. It’s Santa’s Workshop though that’s the most elaborate and brings the most joy. “Watching the people having a good time, and getting everyone in the Christmas spirit, I get a kick out of that,” said Workman.
Santa’s Workshop is located at 454 Lake Ave. overlooking Bixler Lake, and is open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each night through Dec. 31. Visitors can drive-through the Christmas Greetings displays along the lake’s north shore and in the Bixler Lake Park campground, and then stop by Santa’s Workshop or take in Santa’s Workshop first and then the park’s displays.
Last year Workman had a heart valve replaced that has slowed him down. He thought this would be the final year for Santa’s Workshop. He even posted “final season” on the Santa’s Workshop sign in his front yard. “I’m wavering, though,” he said this week. “So many people have told me they’ve enjoyed this every year and don’t want it to end. If I feel as good next year as I feel now, I’ll continue putting it up.”
Merry Christmas Mr. Workman and all good people who warm our hearts.