When Garn’s parents, Bob and Evelyn, came to Sturgis in 1955, they were greeted by Welcome Wagon hosted by Sturgis Chamber of Commerce.
Bill Beckwith, owner of an upholstery shop, and his wife, Irma (Garn) Beckwith, went out of their way to meet with the Garn family. With a surname in common, they became friends. In case they were related, the Garn kids called her Aunt Irma.
Beckwith had served as Sturgis Santa for decades.
“I remember when Bill was Santa out at Timberly Tree Farm, I would go see him,” Tom said.
When Beckwith passed away in the late-1960s, Tom’s dad, Bob, donned the red suit.
“Dad was Santa in Sturgis for 30 years,” Tom said. “He would walk through downtown with a big bucket of candy canes.”
The street was packed with shoppers and excited children.
In time, a Santa wagon was pulled in west of Strand Theater so kids could come to him.
Bob wore Beckwith’s suit at first, but eventually had Anona Sutton, a local seamstress, make a new one.
“It was Pendleton wool,” Tom said, and trimmed with real fur.
Around 1995, Bob was battling cancer, so he passed the red suit on to his son.
Tom continued the tradition for the next 20 years. He was stationed here and there around the city until the Santa house was built by Sturgis High School building trades students at Free Church Park.
Eventually Tom had a new suit made, initially with faux fur. “But we had to have real fur.” So he ordered it online.
For years, Tom had a busy December schedule that included a visit to Timberly Tree Farm, the business belonging to his friend Dave Locey.
In 2015, Tom gave up the red suit, but going full -circle from meeting Santa to being Santa at Timberly is meaningful.
That, and maintaining a family tradition. On his living room wall is a photo of his father as Santa Claus. In fact, Bob passed away on Christmas Eve, 1998.
“He’s there watching over me,” Tom said.
Since Tom gave up the red suit, a new Santa has put it on. Bill Furr may not be so closely related but he’s a dedicated community member who loves the role of bringing joy to Sturgis children.
By Rosalie Currier, printed in the Sturgis Sentential Dec. 8, 2023