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Remembering the most wonderful time of year for 'Stanta' Claus

By Kevin Dayhoff, kevindayhoff@gmail.com

6:00 AM EST, November 20, 2012

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Planning for Christmas in Westminster is almost as much a cherished tradition as the holiday itself.

But for many, Christmas 2012 will not quite be the same without Stan Ruchlewicz, the City of Westminster's administrator of economic development and Main Street manager, who died of a heart attack on June 5 at age 56.

During the holiday season, Ruchlewicz was a perennial fixture at the Locust Lane Santa House, serving as "Stanta" Claus to the delight of children and parents alike.

But he was also a driving force behind many of the events that make up the annual Miracle on Main Street activities in Westminster: the parade, the tree lighting and other special events that bring people, businesses and organizations together.

Ruchlewicz was recognized as a leading authority on planning and economic development for small communities — but he seemed to embrace the holidays in Westminster with special fervor.

Sam Greenholtz, who served on the Westminster Common Council from 1987 through 1993, recalled working with Ruchlewicz and the Greater Westminster Development Corporation to plan for the holidays, and especially, "the idea of reviving an old Westminster tradition of having a Christmas parade."

"Stan jumped on the idea and began making calls, planning some type of promotion to go with the parade and bringing all of the pieces together. I think that was in July, and at the August meeting we had it all put together, with Stan leading the charge," said Greenholtz in an email.

"He kept saying how much he enjoyed the holidays, he said. "I remember he wanted to be Santa in the parade, but realized we needed his talents elsewhere. ... He figured it all out for the future parades.

"I once told him he reminded me of Tim Allen in the (movie) 'Santa Clause,' because he transformed around the holidays, just as Tim did in the movie," said Greenholtz. "He loved it."

Westminster's director of planning, Tom Beyard, called Ruchlewicz "Mr. Main Street," and said he, "doubled as our downtown Santa Claus. ... Santa Stan spent countless weekends at his Christmas House on Locust Lane."

Sherri Hosfeld Joseph, owner of Birdie's Coffee Café, credits Ruchlewicz as one of many who helped her get her Main Street restaurant off the ground.

"This holiday season will be joyful, in part because of his work, she said. "Stan will be on our minds, but I'm sure he is looking down on us from above as we prepare for the holidays."

In 2010, Ruchlewicz estimated that some 22,000 people had come to Main Street for the parade and activities opening the holiday season. That made it an economic development success, but he measured it another way.

"What really makes it all worthwhile, and this comes from my years of being a 'special assistant' to Santa Claus, is watching the awe-struck faces of the kids watching the parade, lighting the tree and having fun," Ruchlewicz told The Eagle.

"That's really what makes it all worthwhile, and worth doing."