HARTINGTON – Don and Carla Noecker were ready to sleigh their roles this year as an iconic Christmas couple.
The Hartington husband-and-wife team played Santa and Mrs. Claus on Nov. 18 at the Hartington Senior Citizen Center for the Cedar County community's 2022 Candlelight Christmas celebration.
'We just really enjoyed the evening,' Don said. 'There were a lot of kids – they were prepared to sit down and talk to Santa.'
He noted there were some younger children who were a little scared of being around Santa and Mrs. Claus.
'Otherwise, it was just really a fun evening talking with kids and talking about their Christmas dreams,' Don said.
Don and Carla replaced Kerry Dendinger and Collette Hartman, who had portrayed the Christmas characters for the annual Hartington festival for several years.
Hartington Area Chamber of Commerce President Karen Flamig contacted the Noeckers to see whether they would be willing to take over as the Clauses.
Carla joked about having to check with Santa – Don – and seeing whether his busy schedule would allow them time to take on the well-known roles in red and white.
'We just decided it sounds like a fun thing – something we could do to help out the community and make the kids happy,' Carla said.
Don noted he and Carla appreciate the community of Hartington.
'We've moved back here twice from Omaha,' Don said. 'Hartington is our home. We want this event to be a great experience for everybody. That's why we agreed to go ahead and help out. We're happy to help out.'
The Noeckers have been involved in Hartington's Candlelight Christmas celebration in various ways during the festival's 23 years.
Don was the chamber president early in the celebration's history and he and Carla have helped out at the Knights of Columbus soup supper and Catholic Daughters of America pie fundraisers.
The Noeckers enjoyed riding in a decorated pickup truck during the parade as Santa and Mrs. Claus, though Don noted he was ready to go flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeers.
“I have other plans,” Don said jokingly. “I have a whole new rig this year.”
Neither Don nor Carla are North Pole natives. Cedar County is where they are both from – Don’s hometown is Bow Valley and Carla (Johnson) grew up in Laurel.
The couple have called Hartington their home for many years, though they also lived in Omaha twice as well.
From 1985-88, Don and Carla served as family teachers at Boys Town, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for children and families across the United States.
Don then went into administration at Boys Town while Carla took care of their three children at home and opened a daycare.
The couple moved their family to Hartington in 1997 and they took over the community’s Farm Bureau Financial Services office.
They returned to Omaha about 10 years later when Don went into management for Farm Bureau.
Don and Carla decided to relocate back to Hartington in 2011 and continued working in the insurance business as independent agents.
The couple have given back to the community they call home and have continued to do so.
Don and Carla loved bringing joy to the area kids who came to visit them on Nov. 18 and told them what they wanted for Christmas.
“We got a really nice letter to Santa as well that was pretty cute,” Don said.
He recalled what happened when one little girl walked in with her parents and saw Santa and Mrs. Claus with a line of people in front of them.
“She saw me and screamed ‘Santa!’ and just ran over and jumped in my arms,” Don said. “It was really cute.”
The Noeckers love kids, including their own three children and nine grandchildren.
Two of the couple’s grandkids – a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old – traveled from Sioux Falls, S.D., to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus during Hartington’s Candlelight Christmas celebration and did not recognize their grandparents.
Don noted he and Carla would be interested in playing the iconic Christmas couple again in the future for the festival.
“We had good fun,” Don said. “It was a busy night for Santa and Mrs. Claus.”
He noted the community’s celebration “is just a joyful event. It’s been such an exciting thing for Hartington for many years.”
Carla agreed, saying the festival creates a “lot of excitement” and “gets people in the spirit of the season.”