Bill Dieterle and Santa Claus
Bringing Christmas to
sick and dying children
Santa Claus lives in Middlefield, Ohio.
Oh sure, he has his main headquarters at the North Pole. But he has a branch right here in Middlefield too and it is a full-service operation. You might say it's his "Summer Home".
Of course Santa sometimes needs help and for his Middlefield Office he has enlisted the aid of Bill Dieterle. Not everyone has Santa's North Pole Phone Number, so people who need to contact him go through Bill.
Bill was born in Chicago and originally thought he was going to be a priest. In fact he spent five years in a Catholic seminary studying to do just that. He got a football scholarship to St. Procopius College and graduated with a degree in English.
He took a job as the midnight bellman at Stouffers Hotels and went on to be their youngest Vice President.
Bill was once a vice president at Tony Roma's as well. He's even the man responsible for the idea of Stouffer's French Bread Pizza!
If Santa hadn't called Bill and asked for his help he'd probably be in New York working for the big chains and making the big bucks.
But Santa did call, and Bill is working for him at the Middlefield Branch of the North Pole "and loving every minute of it."
"I had a great childhood. Christmas was always celebrated in wonderful ways in my house." So of course, when Santa called, Bill answered the call.
It seemed that there were a lot of children in the hospital and critically ill and Santa wanted to visit them - whether it was Christmastime or not. But he needed someone to coordinate his efforts so that he could still see to his work at the North Pole. So he called on Bill.
Santa Claus visiting a sick child
At first Bill was nervous, after all this was Santa Claus asking for help and he wasn't sure if he was up to the challenge. So he decided to go with Santa one day and watch Santa work. He watched as Santa made each child smile.
Bill remembers one little boy who jumped to the beginning of the line of children waiting to sit on Santa's knee. The people in charge were about to ask him to go to the back of the line when Santa noticed a scar on the child and motioned that it was okay for him to stay where he was. Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas and the boy answered "nothing."
Santa was astonished and so was Bill who was off to the side watching. "You must want something" Santa said. Then the young boy answered Santa in the most sincere, childlike voice and said "Santa, you know I'm dying. Please just make my mother happy."
Santa gave the young boy a big hug and the boy walked away happy. His mother was crying tears of pride, joy and sorrow all at once. Bill was stunned as he watched the child and Santa interact and he knew he couldn't say no to Santa; he wanted to help him make children like this happy.
So now, whenever Santa goes to visit a sick or dying child, Bill facilitates the visit and is there on the sidelines making it all happen. He remembers many calls from families whose child is a patient at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital or any of a number of other places. They know the child will not live until Christmas, but they would like just one more picture with Santa.
Bill knows how important those happy memories will be to the families in the years to come, so when he gets the call he calls Santa at the North Pole and together they make sure the child gets to see Santa one more time.
Santa's Hideaway Hollow
He's been helping Santa in this way for 26 years now. In the early years he would get requests for a bedside visit from Santa about 75 to 100 times a year. "Last year Santa visited over 4,000 children. Of course every time Santa goes to Rainbow he visits all of the children, not just the one he was called for. Wouldn't it be terrible if a child heard that Santa Claus was there and didn't come to visit?!"
Bill continued to work for Tony Roma's even after the call from Santa, thinking he would be able to do both. He refused to take on any client that was not flexible enough to allow him to go to Santa's aid on short notice. But Santa's work can be very demanding.
He remembers once when he was meeting with some Japanese businessmen in California. Santa called him and said there was a child dying and Bill had to help make the arrangements for Santa to be able to visit.
The Japanese businessmen told him to go, help Santa. They even kept Bills' wife Jan there and watched out for her until he returned.
Bill and Jan have one daughter, Jordan, a freshman at Notre Dame Cathedral Latin. "She's 14 going on 30" who also loves to help Santa and Bill whenever she can.
Santa arrives at the hospital in fire trucks with police escorts, elves, food, toys and shopping carts full of presents. Of course when he is in the North Pole he travels by sled but even the snow we get here in Cleveland isn't enough to keep a sled mobile, so he uses a fire truck instead.
Santa Claus with elves
Santa and Bill have witnessed miracles and have seen things Bill can not explain. "So often I wish I could pull a miracle out of my bag or maybe Santa could work a miracle and God, in his wisdom, sometimes allows that to happen. But it's not me or even Santa; its God's will that must be done."
One such miracle occurred when Bill arranged for Santa to see a very young child who had just been taken off a breathing tube. The baby was dressed up in red and ruffles for Christmas and her picture with Santa.
When Santa held the baby, she started to choke and then breathe on her own. A true Christmas miracle. "I believe this is God's choice and I believe in the faith and love of the family."
Christmas Angel at Santa's Hideaway Hollow
He also recalls the child he visited one November, who was in a coma. The child came out of the coma in February and wanted to know when Christmas was because she remembered that Santa had come to visit. So Akron Babies and Children's Hospital decorated for Christmas in February and Santa went to visit.
The siblings hadn't opened their presents either - they were waiting to do it together. Bill has noticed that this happens a lot; people tend to forget about the siblings or at least forget how much they are hurting too.
"Santa always talks to children in comas. He knows they can hear him and he never forgets the siblings either."
Sometimes after Bill has spent the day with Santa (most of their hospital trips last 8-9 hours) he comes home and cries; he is so saddened by the young children in pain. But when he gets a call he doesn't hesitate to contact Santa and make it happen all over again.
Inside Santa's Hideaway Hollow
Santa told Bill that he was spending so much time in Northeast Ohio that he really needed a home here. So, 15 years ago, Bill built Santa a house in Bainbridge. But the neighbors were full of "humbug" and kept taking Bill to court, trying to keep Santa from living in their neighborhood.
Santa and Bill talked it over and decided that the Bainbridge home was too small anyway, so Bill bought 93 acres in Middlefield Ohio. Santa and Bill worked out the plans and they built a city. There's a candy store and a bakery and of course the elves are often there working.
There's a theater and carriage paths and a replica of the North Pole so Santa doesn't feel home sick when he's here. Santa took Bill to his North Pole home so Bill could make sure and get the details right - and he has - right down to the 6 reindeer!
There are no paid employees at Santa's Middlefield Home, which he calls Santa's Hideaway Hollow. No one gets a salary or a fee of any kind. Even the fire trucks and police escorts are driven by off duty officers.
They have no fundraisers or big pleas for financial help. They rely on the kindness of people.
Bernie Kosar building at Santa's Hideaway Hollow
Contributions have come from people like Bernie Kosar who has a building named after him.
The students at Notre Dame Cathedral Latin often help the elves. Families come out to the Hollow after a child has died and plant a Christmas tree in their memory. There is one tree that was actually planted by a child who lived. The tree is in memory of his father who died in the transplant that saved his son.
Santa Claus with Elves visiting a child
Santa taught Bill sign language and how to say Merry Christmas in many languages. This comes in handy especially when Bill goes to Cleveland Clinic with Santa where there are patients from around the world.
It is remarkable work that Bill does, helping Santa Claus like that. It is his amazing heart that keeps him going - a heart filled with so much love and compassion it is overwhelming to even think about.
Bill says he wishes he could "create a miracle" and save these children. Once you know about Bill's work and how he helps Santa Claus and once you have seen Hideaway Hollow and realize how much he has put into it, you cannot help but think that Bill Dieterle is a true Christmas miracle.
Santa's Hideaway Hollow is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation. To contact Santa through Bill for a child in need or to help with the tremendous financial undertaking please contact him at William Dieterle, Santa's Hideaway Hollow 15400 Bundysburg, Middlefield, OH 44062
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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