A Santa remembered: Family honors Easthampton man’s holiday spirit with toy fund donation

  • Chester Ogulewicz in Santa costume with his daughter, Mary Beth Ogulewicz.   Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2018 12:06:57 AM

EASTHAMPTON – For many years on Christmas Eve, Chester Ogulewicz would quietly sneak away from his family — his wife, children and seven grandchildren — during Wigilia, a traditional Polish holiday dinner. 

He would go to the cellar, change into a Santa suit and emerge – beard and all – ringing bells and carrying presents for his grandchildren in a laundry sack.

“You’d hear dingle, dingle, the kids would run to the front window and they’d see a Santa down the driveway,” his daughter Mary Beth Ogulewicz recalled.

Chester passed away in 2015, but Mary Beth donated to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund in his memory last year. Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression.

Chester’s annual act began with the arrival of his grandchildren – that’s when he bought his first suit. As his confidence in his Santa character grew, he started playing the part around Easthampton, including in neighbors’ homes and at a breakfast with Santa at Sacred Heart Church.

He came to be known for it, Mary Beth said, estimating that his act touched hundreds of children’s lives in Easthampton.

As Santa, he’d hand out Lindt chocolates that he would buy when they went on sale. “His bedroom closet was filled with them,” Mary Beth said.

Carol Krumpholz lived across the street from Chester for decades, and he would visit her 13 grandchildren in costume. She would stash toys outside in her car for Chester to come give to the kids.

When her husband Wallace died right before Christmas one year, Chester sprang into action.

“He came over ringing his bells as loud as he could,” she said choking up. “He knew when I needed cheering up.”

Over the years his costume got more elaborate and he acquired makeup for rosy cheeks, a pillow for a round belly and knee-high boots that he looked everywhere for, Mary Beth said.

His grandchildren believed for a long time that the true Santa visited their home.

Liz Sacco, now 19, didn’t realize it was her grandfather until a few years ago when she heard her sister and mom, Mary Beth, talking about it. “That’s when I realized … I just never put that together,” she said.

“It never even crossed my mind that it could be him … it was just Santa,” she continued.

Though, she had some questions growing up, too. “I did wonder, why did Santa only come to our house on Christmas Eve?”

My grandparents must know Santa, she told herself.

Chester’s Christmas act was in stark contrast to his everyday life, Mary Beth said.

“He really had a life that was marked by humility and ordinariness,” she said.

Chester was born and died in Easthampton and was not very interested in socializing. He was a “shy, unassuming individual,” his daughter explained, who traveled from his house, to work, to church.”

“He was like a triangle,” she said.

His Santa act was central to his personality – even at the end of his life.

“Even in dementia,” Mary Beth said, “He would tell his providers he would put on his costume and play Santa for everybody.”

When he forgot his wife and what he had done for a living, Mary Beth said, “he remembered that he dressed as Santa. That must have been very important to him.”

The Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.

Berkshire Children & Families at 220 Russell St., Suite 200 in Hadley, MA 01035, verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main St. Northampton; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The ToyBox, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Dept. Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com.

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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