Fairmont saying farewell to ‘Santa Claus’

Once you’ve met Ken Wolfgram, you’ll believe in Santa Claus, no matter what season of the year. Among those who give to the community, you’ll never meet anyone as jovial.

His favorite part of volunteering for the Salvation Army is preparing packages for needy families and singles at the Christmas Food Distribution. Depending on family size, the boxes could weigh up to 100 pounds. Wolfgram noted that throughout the year, 7 percent of Martin County residents have to skip one meal a day. But he said the community has been pretty helpful.

Wolfgram’s eyes twinkled at one memory.

“One gentleman came in [to the food pantry] and acted owly and my wife told him if he didn’t shape up, she was going to give him a hug,” he recalled. “He walked around with a smile on his face the rest of the time.”

Wolfgram’s dedication to the Salvation Army is being remembered as he prepares to move away from Fairmont. The Salvation Army is teaming with HyVee through Sept. 6 for a food drive to honor him. The goal is to collect 10,000 pounds.

To give, donate nonperishable food items at the Fairmont Salvation Amy, 114 E. Blue Earth Ave., during regular business hours. Donations also can be dropped off at Hy-Vee, 907 S. State St., 24 hours a day. People also have the option to give online.

On Sept. 6, an official food weigh-in and celebration will be held at Hy-Vee from 9 to 11 a.m.

“Although 10,000 pounds is a lot of weight, it’s still not as heavy as our hearts will be after Ken leaves,” Major Dale Hixenbaugh said. “He’s been an incredible blessing to The Salvation Army and the people of Fairmont. We love Ken, and thank him for the time he’s given us.”

When Wolfgram retired in 2005, he was grateful for the chance to do something more with his life. Every five years, Caterpillar moved him to a different state to work for another subdivision. Though he appreciated the challenges the company gave him, after 35 years of working with them, he felt ready to slow down.

“They had me hopping just like any other big company,” he said.

Janet Ruth asked for Wolfgram’s help at the Salvation Amy during the Christmas season of 2005. This later got him involved with the Rotary Club. Over the years, he has enjoyed working alongside fellow volunteers.

Being part of the food pantry takes Wolfgram back in time when his family had to make the best of what they had. When times grew especially hard, the family would heat up leftover pork fat with milk, then pour it over bread.

“It taught me people need food in order to have a decent life,” he said.

Wolfgram became president of the Rotary Club in 2006. The main project he was part of was STRIVE, a one-on-one mentoring program helping high school students who struggle with grades. One student who lived with a single parent shared Wolfgram’s passionate interest for cars and the two developed a strong friendship.

The Rotary Club also helps fight polio. Wolfgram says the disease is now only found in three countries. He hopes the fight will continue until the problem gets eliminated completely.

He says he has enjoyed working alongside Hixenbaugh, who has asked for Wolfgram’s advice on various projects.

“I’d always be honest,” Wolfgram said with a laugh.

“I will miss the Fairmont community because it’s rural,” Wolfgram added. “People know each other and help each other. It’s the friendliest town I’ve lived in.”

And that’s saying a lot. With the jobs Wolfgram has had with CAT and Caterpillar, he has gotten around, not only to other states, but he lived in Germany for three years and traveled to Japan a couple times. He has also visited Australia on business.

Now he’s making a permament move to Colorado to be part of his granddaughter’s life.

As for his time here, Wolfgram wants to rememembered as a compassionate person concerned with feeding people who otherwise may have gone hungry.

“Helping at the Salvation Army is my religion,” he said.