Franklin County woman enjoys filling annual role of Mrs. Claus

December 17, 2004|by DON AINES

Editor's note: This series over the 12 days before Christmas recognizes those individuals and groups that make the holidays better for others.

A raw wind was blowing through Chambersburg's Memorial Square recently as a crimson-clad figure stood next to the borough Christmas tree.

"Being from the North Pole, it wouldn't do for me to complain about freezing," said Becky Burley of Fayetteville, Pa., also known as "Mrs. Claus," a role she has lived for three decades.

Dressed in red velvet, with collar and cuffs trimmed in white fur, a candy stripe apron and silver bells around her ankle, Burley is a holiday tradition in Franklin County.


She recently rode in an antique sleigh for Waynesboro's Christmas parade and has a full schedule throughout the holidays making appearances at stores, restaurants, nursing homes, senior centers and community events, dispensing candy and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hugs.

This is the 80-year-old Burley's 30th season of dispensing holiday cheer, something she began doing back in Marion, Ohio, with her late husband, Dick Burley. Two years later, in 1976, the couple moved to Franklin County, where Burley grew up.

Dick and Becky teamed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, inhabiting Santa's House on Memorial Square and hearing the wish lists of children until 1991. Her husband died the following year, she said.

"I would make great big boxes of chocolate chip cookies" and hand them out to children, while her husband held them on his knee and chatted with them. She said her husband's style was never to come right out and ask what children wanted for Christmas, but to engage them in gentle conversation first.

Senior citizens at senior centers and nursing homes still appreciate seeing Mrs. Claus, Burley said. "Before I leave, I get them laughing," she said.

"Being a widow lady, it gets lonely, but Christmas is my favorite time," said Burley. Getting in costume and making her rounds helps keep her "a teenage senior citizen," she said.

Saturday: Fountaindale Elementary School volunteer Sherri Betts

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