- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - Ernie Scharnhorst knew Santa Claus. Even worked for him.

No, the St. Joseph man was not an elf.

This Yuletide tale requires some adjustment, true. For one thing, Santa Claus, the one who lived a couple of blocks away from young Ernie’s boyhood home, stood at least 6 feet 4 inches tall and “was skinny as a rail,” the St. Joseph News-Press (https://bit.ly/1VceSGX ) reports.

For another, Santa worked on the Missouri River before finding opportunity when his hometown of Marshall, Missouri, got indoor plumbing.

But make no mistake: News accounts of the time, not to mention the U.S. Census Bureau and the vital statistics keepers of the state of Missouri, affirm that Santa Claus lived as a Missourian.

(OK, and one more thing, the name was actually Santa Clause, but Christmas requires a charitable excision of the “e.”)

That doesn’t detract from Scharnhorst’s story, which he delivers with spirit.

“I knew Santa Claus,” he says. “I knew his family. I went to school with his family and grew up with them.”

Scharnhorst grew up in Marshall, one of nine children of Oxford and Margaret Scharnhorst. They lived on South Davis Street, and the kids would walk to Benton School past the house of the Clause family, which had eight children.

“Most every one of us went to school with one of the kids,” he says.

His older brother, Johnny, became a lifelong friend of Jimmy Clause. Ernie, born in the middle of the Scharnhorst lineup, was a contemporary of Edna Clause.

Santa, born in 1888, came to embrace his famous name. According to a story by The Associated Press in 1939, he began growing a beard each December - dark, but he powdered it white - and gamely responded, with local monetary contributions, to numerous letters from children with their Christmas wishes.

His signature proved the genuine article.

Along with this, Santa also knew the Biblical version of Christmas. He had constructed a cinder block building on his property and on weekends preached the Gospel as a Church of Christ minister.

During the week, he worked digging trenches from the street to Marshall homes as water and sewer lines got connected.

“I worked for him one summer when I was 15,” Scharnhorst says. “I’m not a ditch digger. I didn’t know it until then.”

The St. Joseph man would become a carpenter, but that remains part of a larger story. Born in 19303, he started working at age 8, feeding chickens for a farm couple for 15 cents a week. The wage allowed him admission to a movie with enough left over for a bag of popcorn.

From his father, a man everyone knew as “Big Boy,” Ernie would learn from valuable lessons: always be on time, always provide quality work, always earn your pay.

But Big Boy, who Ernie would remember as bartering knife-sharpening skills for money to buy rounds of drinks, also passed along less constructive teachings.

“My dad was a drinker and a smoker,” Scharnhorst says, “and he taught us all well.”

Rambunctious ways followed Ernie. He married Jennie in 1952, and, he says, “The first 10 years of my married life were not a picnic for my wife.”

When they moved to Kansas City, to eventually live there 35 years, he could always find a job. But he went from workplace to workplace. In 1962, he says, something happened.

“God got hold of me,” Scharnhorst recalls. “It was like a voice sitting next to me, but there was nobody around.”

He tore up his remaining cigarettes and poured out the booze. “I would not change that day for any day in this world,” he says.

Over the years, he would support his family as a rough-in carpenter, doing the framing for countless houses in the Kansas towns of Overland Park and Lenexa. The man said he would be proud to tell any of those homeowners now, decades removed, about the pains he took, square and level, to get that construction right.

Now living in a North Side neighborhood in St. Joseph, he also happily tells stories to his great-grandchildren about his 63-year marriage. Jennie came from a family of even more modest means.

“She borrowed $15 from me to buy a dress in order to get married,” Scharnhorst says. “I said she hasn’t paid me that $15 yet, and I’m not leaving the house until I get my money.”

In addition, he enjoys his time spent with Santa Claus, the Marshall pastor and trencher. For youngsters, he leaves out the less important realities. Why ruin the magic at Christmastime?

“As long as you believe there’s a Santa Claus,” he says, “there’s a Santa Claus.”

___

Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, https://www.newspressnow.com


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