St Nicholas Institute, Santa School Michigan, Santa Claus Training, Santa Claus School

"Where the North American St. Nicholas Revolution Began"







2013 Award Winners

Art Van Elslander, Founder & Chairman, Art Van Furniture

Art Van Elslander Lifetime Achievement Award

Art Van Elslander opened his first Art Van store, a 4,000-square foot unit, in 1959. Art Van Elslander built his company with a deep understanding that buildings are just brick and mortar, but the heartbeat of a company is its people. Through empowerment and support, he has secured a unique loyalty from his employees.

His business savvy and ground-breaking practices have earned him the respect of the industry. His accomplishments have been highlighted through many awards including: 2009 Retailer of the Year by Furniture Today, the National Home Furnishings Association and the Michigan Retailers Association; and the Spirit of Life Award from City of Hope and the National Home Furnishings and Consumer Electronics Industry. He has also been inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame.

Giving back to the community is also a priority of Van Elslander. In 1990, he made a donation to Michigan's Thanksgiving Day Parade, saving the organization from a major financial crisis. Since then, he has been a major contributor each year to assure the parade's continued success, now known as Americas Thanksgiving Parade

His philanthropy reaches far and includes support for programs for those with disabilities, education for underprivileged youth, the homeless and others in need. Cancer research and research in ophthalmology are also among the areas receiving his assistance. He has made significant contributions to the Van Elslander Cancer Center, the Van Elslander Family Pavilion and the Van Elslander Neurosciences Center at St. John Providence Health System, the Van Elslander Center at St. Vincent De Paul and The David Hermelin Brain Cancer Center at Henry Ford Health System. In 2009, Art Van Furniture initiated the Art Van Million Dollar Charity Challenge, donating $5 million dollars in the form of challenge grants to 150 Michigan charities, including Forgotten Harvest, Gleaners Community Food Bank, and FocusHope. Van Elslander has also supported St. John Providence Health System, Henry Ford Hospital and the Helen Devos Childrens Hospital at Spectrum Health.

Van Elslanders generosity has earned him nearly two dozen awards including 2012 Arab-American and Chaldean Council Lifetime Achievement Award, Ernst and Young Lifetime Achievement Award (inaugural winner), and 2010 Hospice Crystal Rose for Outstanding Community Leader to name a few.

2013 Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance: Art Van Elslander
David Van Elslander--accepting for his father

Spirit Of Christmases Past, Present & Future Award
Virginia Patton Moss, "It's a Wonderful Life"

Spirit Of Christmases Past, Present, Future Award

Virginia Patton MossVirginia Patton Moss was born in Cleveland, OH and now resides in Ann Arbor, MI. She attended The University of Southern California and the University of Michigan, and has been active with Cleary College as a member of both the Advisory Board and the Board of Trustees. Cleary College conferred upon her an honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Business Administration. Presently, she is President and Director of the Patton Corporation, an investment and real estate holding company.

Her motion picture career began as a teenager for Warner Brothers and Frank Capra, in association with Liberty Films, Inc. Playwright and film director, William C. deMille (brother of the legendary filmmaker Cecil B. deMille), was an early supporter of the young Miss Patton while she was still a freshman at U.S.C. Through his influence, she was recommended to audition for a part in Frank Capras upcoming film, Its a Wonderful Life. Virginia subsequently won the role of Ruth Dakin Bailey, the sister-in-law of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart); a role that would make her a part of motion picture history. It is worth noting that she has the singular distinction of being the only cast member of Its a Wonderful Life to have been personally signed by Director, Frank Capra, for an acting role in that classic film. All other cast members were on loan from other studios.

In a 2012 interview, Virginia Patton Moss recalled the atmosphere while working for Capra during the filming of "It's a Wonderful Life": "When you were on the set, you knew your lines you knew your business, she said. There was camaraderie, but it was also a business. It was a wonderful atmosphere that some other directors didnt produce. The combination of camaraderie and wonderful atmosphere that some other directors didnt produce was the secret behind the movie-magic called: The Capra Touch. Since the beloved Christmas film in which she appeared is now beamed via satellite to all five continents each Yuletide, Virginia now humorously observes: Ive probably been in more homes than even Santa Claus.

After production of Its a Wonderful Life ended, Patton would star in four additional films. In 1949, she chose to marry Cruse W. Moss and start a family in Michigan. Although Capra was initially troubled about the soundness of her decision, her clear resolve eventually won his approval. In retrospect, Virginia entertains no regrets about leaving Hollywood to become a wife and mother: I have a beautiful letter that (Capra) wrote me because I kept in touch with him. He wrote: I just knew youd be a wonderful mother with three little bambinos and a wonderful husband. Cruse went on to a distinguished career as a highly respected automotive executive (see current photo of Virginia Patton Moss and her husband, Cruse Moss, below).

Virginia Patton Moss & Cruse Moss, HusbandRevealing her lifelong love and knowledge of art and archaeology, Mrs. Moss is a Docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, member of the American Institute of Archaeology and has served on the Boards of both the Ann Arbor Society and the University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeological Associates. She also serves as a Trustee of the Ohio Universitys Kennedy Museum of Art, and is active in the University of Michigan School of Music, where a Virginia Patton Moss Display Case features musical instruments in the Margaret Dow Towsley Wing. In harmony with her eclectic spirit, she is a member of the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop Association, National Farm and Garden Association, the Ann Arbor Garden Club, and served as President of the Ann Arbor Alumnae Association of Alpha Phi Sorority.

Mrs. Moss is a Presbyterian and active member of The First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, and an associate member of the Moorings Presbyterian Church of Naples, FL.

"It's A Wonderful Life" (short outtake) Video Courtesy: Paramount

2013 Spirit Of Christmases Past, Present & Future Award Acceptance: Virginia Patton Moss
(Short Version)

2013 Spirit Of Christmases Past, Present & Future Award Acceptance: Virginia Patton Moss
(Long Version)

2013 Spirit Of St. Nicholas Award Winners
Dr. Adam C. English - Rev. Rennie Kaufmann - Dick Purtan - Tony Semple

Spirit of St. Nicholas Award

Nicholas as Our Model Dr. Adam C. English, author, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus -

From his earliest memories of coming down the stairs on Christmas morning at his grandparents house in Texas, Adam C. English has always been fascinated with Santa Claus. But not until he traversed the Atlantic and visited the tomb of St. Nicholas did he discover what was truly fascinating about Mr. Claus.

In his recently published book, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, religious historian Adam English tells the true and compelling tale of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Noted author, Greg Garrett, rightly summarized: Adam Englishs real gift is in resurrecting, through his painstaking historical detective work, a flesh-and-blood St. Nicholas whose courage and Christian generosity are worthy of emulation

Adam C. English The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus

Around the fourth century in what is now Turkey, a boy of humble circumstance became a man revered for his many virtues. Chief among them was dealing generously with his possessions, once gifting an entire family out of poverty with a singleand secretgift of gold, so legend tells. Yet he was much more than virtuous. As English reveals, Saint Nicholas was of integral influence in events that would significantly impact the history and development of the Christian church, including the Council of Nicaea, the destruction of the temple to Artemis in Myra, and a miraculous rescue of three falsely accused military officers. And Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors, merchants and thieves, as well as France, Russia, Greece, and myriad others.

"The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus" by Adam C. English

Weaving together the best historical and archaeological evidence available with the folklore and legends handed down through generations, English creates a stunning image of this much venerated Christian saint. With prose as enjoyable as it is informative, he shows why the lifeand deathof Nicholas of Myra so radically influenced the formation of Western history and Christian thought, and did so in ways many have never realized.

Besides nursing a growing obsession with St. Nicholas, Adam C. English serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. At the university, he enthusiastically introduces his students to the great texts and ideas of the Christian tradition and regularly leads Study Abroad programs to Italy. He has also published three books.

Ordained as a minister in the Baptist tradition, English served as pastor to youth and children while in college and seminary. Once for the sake of the children! he even dressed the part of Santa Claus, complete with white beard and black boots. Toward the end of his seminary training he began to feel that he might best fulfill his calling to ministry in the classroom. He enrolled at Baylor University to earn his doctorate and in 2003 traded Texas for North Carolina in order to teach at Campbell University.

He now shares the joys and wonders of Christmas with his ten year old daughter, Cassidy, and his lovely wife, Charissa, in Lillington, North Carolina. Next to his wife and daughter, the two things he loves best are long runs on sunny days and late-night talks with rowdy friends.

2013 Spirit of St. Nicholas Award Acceptance: Dr. Adam C. English

Openness to the Christmas Spirit Rev. Rennie Kaufmann, "The One Man Band" -

Pastor Rennie Kaufmann at the keyboardPossessing extraordinarily rare gifts that betoken a true "Renaissance Man" in the field of entertainment, Rev. Rennie Kaufmann has distinguished himself professionally in a wide variety of venues for more than two-and-one half decades. These have included: performances at numerous private parties hosted by Oprah Winfrey, working with the legendary Quincy Jones, musical appearances at Walt Disney World, in addition to many civic programs, corporate and private events; even appearances on television and radio.

Drawing upon his diverse gifts over and over again, he continues to donate his personal time and talents to benefit many non-profit fund raising events and charitable endeavors. While serving these worthy causes, he delights countless audiences with his warm, upbeat personality, sleight-of-hand magic tricks, storytelling and improvisational performances that reveal a quick wit and engaging sense of humor. To cite just one example of his appeal, the U.S. State Department twice chose him as a cultural envoy to Azerbaijan, thereby offering joy and hope to many refugee camps, orphanages, entertainment centers and embassies. At no small risk to himself, he likewise shared his talents with a very active underground church in that country (see photo of Rev. Kaufmann entertaining at a village in Azerbaijan, below).

Pastor Rennie Kaufmann in Azerbaijan 2007As a child, Kaufmann's home was always filled with music."I grew up singing and playing. I played piano at officers clubs and eventually did private and corporate events," he recalls. "In addition, I was always in worship arts-music and drama." The son of a U.S. Army officer, Kaufmann spent his high school years in Iran (before the revolution). During his 8 years traveling around the world as an "Army brat", he was drawn to his parents' love for history and archeology, while he lived in Thailand. Subsequently, as a youthful 16 year old, Kaufmann backpacked in Egypt and went on digs in Iran. He even took advantage of the opportunity to visit Israel. As a result of his wide ranging experiences, he developed a passion and abiding respect for a wide variety of people, cultures, cuisine, history, and diverse languages. Over time, an ever-growing desire to share the Gospel to all nations developed within him. 

In time, he graduate from Northwood University with a BBA (Management) and continued his graduate work in theology at Michigan Theological Seminary (now Moody Theological Seminary) and at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Pastor Rennie Kaufmann & Karen, Wife"Married to my best friend, Karen" (see photo, below), Rev. Kaufmann serves as associate pastor at Living Word (Lutheran) Church located in Plymouth, MI. God has blest he and his loving wife with five children: Kyle, Joshua, Isaac, Luke, and Esther. Often, he enlists the talents of his entire family who join him in entertaining others.

Nonetheless, it is his characteristic willingness to donate so much of his personal time and God-given performing talents (both locally and worldwide) on behalf of the poor, the young, the elderly, the marginalized, and the despairing that most clearly exemplifies Christ's admonition: "What you have received as a gift, give as a gift" (Mt. 10:8b). His deeply caring nature, coupled with a warm, upbeat, ever-youthful persona gives joyful witness to the Christmas Spirit year-round. For, as he likes to say, we are put on this earth to "Use things and love people, not the other way around." It is these self-evident qualities that continually serve as an inspiration to all who have had the privilege of knowing him.

Upon learning of Kaufmann's being selected to receive this noteworthy recognition, someone candidly expressed the sentiments of many: "We have followed you for many years, and marveled at your continued contributions to selflessly helping others. In view of your long, successful and distinguished career, it is most appropriate to confer upon you this Spirit of St. Nicholas Award. In fact, I cannot imagine nor dream of a more worthy candidate."

2013 Spirit of St. Nicholas Award Acceptance: Rev. Rennie Kaufmann

Exercising Compassion Dick Purtan, The Salvation Army Bed & Bread Club Radiothon

Dick Purtan and Gail, Wife at Radio Hall of FameDick Purtan was first drawn into the world of broadcasting when: My dad bought a floor-model radio with an attached record player and microphone when I was about six years old. I would plug in the microphone and broadcast through the speaker. [And] so I decided then and there broadcasting was for me. In time, Dick began his career in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. He likewise worked at WOLF-AM (Syracuse, NY) and WSAI (Cincinnati, OH); WBAL (Baltimore, MD). Dick Purtan promptly won over radio audiences after his arrival to southeastern Michigan as a disc jockey for WKNR-AM (Keener 13) in 1965. His quick wit and fresh sense of humor made him a top radio personality at: WXYZ-AM, CKLW-AM and WCZY-FM (subsequently becoming WKQI-FM). Following thirteen years at WKQI/Detroit, he transitioned to WOMC in 1996. His show, Purtans People, became Detroits top-rated morning program. Dick was an inductee into both the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame (2006) and the National Radio Hall of Fame (2004) (see 2004 photo of Dick Purtan and his proud wife, Gail, right).

He was instrumental in establishing the very first 16 hour Dick Purtan Radiothon, which evolved into The Salvation Army Bed & Bread Club Radiothon. Purtan continued this tradition until his retirement from radio and Detroits WOMC FM 104.3 in 2010. Over the span of 24 years, these radiothons raised over 25 million dollars. Monies raised help feed more than 1.8 million persons, and shelter 148,000 people annually. More than 5,000 meals are provided daily to children, adults and seniors by The Salvation Army Bed & Bread Program, which deploys trucks that make stops in metro Detroit's most depressed areas every day of the year.

Dick Purtan on the Bed & Bread Truck

Dick Purtan Radiothon Dick Purtan, Salvation Army 2012, Bed & Bread Club

His dedicated service is further evidenced by a variety of charitable efforts and related honors. As a 30 year member of the Board of Directors for Childrens Hospital of Michigan, hes raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit that pediatric facility. Both he and his loving wife, Gail, were the recipients of the McCarty Cancer Foundation 2003 Humanitarian of the Year award for their contributions to cancer research. That same year, the Rotary Club of Detroit honored Dick with the Stanley S. Kresge Outstanding Philanthropist Award. Utilizing Dicks media exposure, the Purtans dramatically increased the level of public awareness regarding Ovarian Cancer, and provided over $2 million dollars for the Gail Purtan Ovarian Cancer Research Fund at the Karmanos Cancer Center and the Purtan Family Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund of Detroit honored both Dick and Gail with their 2009 Edward H. McNamara Goodfellow of the Year Award.

2013 Spirit of St. Nicholas Award Acceptance: Dick Purtan

Love for Children Tony Semple, Foundation For Hope Outdoor Adventures

Over the span of his 9 year career (1994-2002) as a valued member of the Detroit Lions, Tony Semple played in 112 NFL games (47 as a starter). During the course of Semples professional career, the Detroit Lions experienced seven coaching changes; beginning with Coach Wayne Fontes and concluding with Coach Steve Mariucci. Although there were challenges over that period, the Lions former offensive guard treasures many fond memories of his NFL teammates, including the rare opportunity of playing alongside football legend, Barry Sanders. Tony was on the offensive line that helped the future Pro Football Hall of Famer rush for an amazing 2,053 yards in 1997.

Tony Semple, NFL Player Tomy Semple, Detroit Lions Football

Sanders humility left a deep impression upon Semple, who reflected: I think what made me admire him more than just his ability on the field, was his character off the field and his demeanor. He wasnt a show-boater, and he wasnt a guy who was always looking for the headlines. The positive, self-effacing character of Barry Sanders found echoes in the sentiments of Tony Semple who, upon his retirement from professional football reflected: Its been a great journey and a great road for me. Its opened up a lot of doors. I used to think it was just for me because I deserved it. But now I realize it was just a platform for God.

Shortly before the conclusion of his professional football career, Tony was approached by personal friend, Craig Mortz, who recognized that his unique platform for God could be used to help provide joy and hope to youngsters facing any number of life-threatening illnesses. Mortz had been arranging private hunting trips for challenged youngsters on his own, and Semple quickly agreed to help out, when he could. As Mortz recalls, Tony would come to camps as a role model, and when he retired he said: Weve got to take this to the next step.

Eventually this led Semple and Mortz to create the Tony Semple Foundation For Hope. Tony summarized their objective: We take kids that are suffering a debilitating illness, a life deficiency. We take them hunting or fishing... getting them into the great outdoors. I have a real passion for hunting and fishing. I love to just work with kids that might not have the means or opportunities to get out there themselves. 

Noteworthy football stars like Brett Favre, Adam Timmerman and Jeff Hartings (another former Lion) have also participated. Since the NFL sponsors hundreds of charities, the Tony Semple Foundation became one of its top five grant recipients. In 2009, the Foundation was named the National Football League Player Associations Charity of the Year. Generous financial support also comes from the Detroit Lions.

Recently, in order to further clarify the Foundations mission, the Tony Semple Foundation For Hope was renamed the Foundation For Hope Outdoor Adventures. Nevertheless, the Foundation for Hope Outdoor Adventures continues to provide youthful campers who usually spend much too much of their lives in doctors office and hospitals, with an authentic, all-expenses-paid 3-4 day fishing or hunting outdoor experience.

Foundation For Hope Outdoor Adventures

Mindful of the words of Jesus, the Foundation For Hope draws inspiration from Christs admonition: Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works, and glorify youre Father which is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).

2013 Spirit of St. Nicholas Award Acceptance: Tony Semple


Master of Ceremonies Tom Loewe Introduction - Jack E. Kirksey, Mayor, City of Livonia, MI

Santa John Johnson IV, Songwriter - "St. Nicholas Institute"

St. Nicholas Institute gratefully acknowledges: Australia's "Unusualist" Raymond Crowe - "What A Wonderful World" - Performed at The Royal Variety Performance, London 2007

Certificates of Achievement Presented







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