Happy the Elf and Santa Claus distribute gifts on Saturday at the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home.

BY LARRY CAUSEY | TEMPLE DAILY TELEGRAM 

Santa and Mrs. Claus paid a visit to the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home on Saturday afternoon.

The jolly, silver-haired couple danced into the recreation room to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and passed out presents to veterans, who also enjoyed baked goods and soft drinks.

Beverly Luedke, president of Rotary Club of Temple South, said the club has hosted a Christmas party at the home for about 15 years. It’s Rotary’s way of “serving the vets, who deserve the best,” she said.

Tad Elliott, chairman of the Christmas party, said the musicians really make it work. Unofficially dubbed the William R. Courtney Christmas Band, the group has three or four players who pick up a few new people every year. Among the performers this year were Don Whatley, Paul Schlesinger, Jesse Ybarbo and Shorty Grisham.

“It gives us a chance to give back, which is what Rotary is all about,” Elliott said of the party. “We’ve been given a lot — the positions that we’re in and the country that we live in.”

During a break in the music, Santa was asked to say something to the vets. “Ho, ho, ho!” he boomed.

Mrs. Claus thanked everybody for inviting them. Luedke recognized Rotarians who were present, state Rep.-elect Hugh Shine, and members of the Interactive Clubs of Temple High School and Holy Trinity High School.

Mrs. Claus said she has been making these appearances for about 12 years. This year some of her grandchildren have started questioning her.

“We know who you really are,” one of them said. “You’re Gigi.”

“No, I’m really Mrs. Claus, and I pretend to be Gigi,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to step out of yourself and play a character that you love,” she said.

Santa said he was proud to be at the party. “Sometimes it’s foggy and cold,” he said. “I’ve got Rudolph to help me. Sometimes it’s good and clear, and I make real good time.”

Happy the Elf said 155 gifts would be given out at the party and to other veterans in their rooms. The Rotary also received donations of more than 60 pairs of socks and lap blankets, some of which will go to homeless veterans through another organization, she said.

Benjamin Clardy, president of Interactive Club at Temple High School, said there were about 30 members. “We do little service projects through the year,” he said.

“It’s cool to see them smile when Santa comes in,” he said of the vets. “It looks like it made their day.”