Rural Missouri - December 2012 - (Page 36)

Every day is Christmas for Lila Osterkamp here’s a definite twinkle in her eye, just as you might expect, even if she isn’t dressing the part right now. Clad in a blaze-orange jacket, turtleneck, jeans and gumboots, Lila Osterkamp throws open the door and welcomes you with open arms. It’s as if she’d known you forever — and she just might. After all, she’s Mrs. Claus. Most people don’t realize this jolly elf has been living life quietly on her 8-acre family farm overlooking the Meramec River for years. But word began to get out around St. Clair about five years ago when she added a reindeer to her animal family of llamas, horses and other critters. “I named her Ruby,” says Lila. “But I soon realized that reindeer are herd animals and she needed a friend, so I got Pearl.” Eventually, she’d like to have eight reindeer to pull her sleigh. For now, she has Ruby, Pearl, Onyx and Topaz. Lila has always been known as Mrs. Claus to her family and friends. She recalls her grandmother dressing up as Mrs. Claus for her church group, so taking on the persona just seemed natural to Lila. “I’ve always loved Christmas,” says the spry 69-year-old. “I think my dad was the first one to say, ‘One day, you’ll be Claus,’ and it was if I’d been handed a mantle. It just seemed natural to me.” Lila, who works part time as a beautician for Mari de Ville Retirement Center Mrs.Claus by Heather Berry N E I G H B O R S T Five-year-old Pearl is one of Lila’s reindeer. in Chesterfield, says she got her first reindeer to help her grandkids believe in the magic of Christmas. Her son’s family lives in Florida and couldn’t come to visit until a day or two after Christmas. And although they love Christmas, the young kids weren’t really buying into the Santa Claus/reindeer thing. Suddenly, one of the children noticed smoke coming out of the chimney of the log house up the hill. So on went the coats and everyone ran up the hill and through the door. “Much to the kids’ surprise, there sat Santa,” says Lila. After a few moments, Santa told the kids, “I understand you don’t believe in me, so I stopped here specifically to let you now I do exist, and I’m leaving something very special for you in the barn.” What he had left for them was Ruby, Lila’s first reindeer. “When they got back to the house, the tree had presents underneath for everyone,” Lila says. These days, she’s pretty sure her granddaughter, 15-year-old Summerlyn, will be the next Mrs. Claus. “I think she’s caught the Claus spirit,” says Lila with a laugh. She says it wasn’t long after she got her first reindeer that people would call and ask, “Is this the reindeer lady?” They’d want to come see them, and she thought, “Why not?” Soon, Lila and her companion, Dale, whom she calls “the main elf,” were busy each fall decorating for the visitors who would come to see the unique animals. Though she doesn’t complain about all the time it takes to prepare the place for visitors, Lila does say this is a somewhat expensive hobby. “It’s also a gift I give to myself. It’s not work, and it’s a joy when others enjoy it.” If people would like to stop by and see the reindeer, Lila asks that they call her and set up a specific day to visit. That way, she can find out the kids’ names, ages, something they like and add their names to her list, just like Santa does. She can bake cookies and make cocoa. And the day they arrive, it’s Mrs. Claus — not Lila — who greets guests at the door, decked out in her long, Victorian red-velvet robe, hat, spectacles, boots and gloves. When they arrive, the group meets the reindeer and other animals. Next, it’s off to the log home that Lila calls “the elves’ workshop,” then back to Lila Osterkamp, 69, loves portraying Mrs. Claus to the hundreds of people who visit her reindeer during the holiday season near St. Clair. the main house for treats. Lila says she loves to see the kids’ eyes light up when they see that reindeer are real animals. “The kids will ask me questions: ‘Do they fly?’ ‘How do they fly?’ ‘Can I see them fly now?’ ‘Where’s Rudolph?’ and so on,” says Lila. “I answer all their questions, but I have to make a point to remember what I told them so I’m consistent.” Visiting the reindeer is free and Lila says she likes to have groups of about 10. Last year, nearly 300 people arranged visits between Thanksgiving and Christmas to see the reindeer. While there is no set fee to visit, Lila accepts donations. She says if they want to, visitors can also help feed the reindeer by purchasing her book, “Lula Belle’s Jewels: The Christmas Wish of Mrs. Claus.” It’s a magical tale about Mrs. Claus adding her name to Santa’s wish list, a code of colored dots and how Santa must figure out what Mrs. Claus wants for Christmas. Lila says each season brings stories that touch her heart, but she fondly recalls one Christmas she found especially touching. One year, she and Dale dressed up as Mrs. Claus and Santa and drove a horse and buggy around Franklin County. As they drove by a run-down mobile home, a young girl waved them down. Lila found out the child wasn’t getting anything for Christmas. She wanted a Playstation. “I don’t know how many stores I called. I went to four Walmarts before I found one,” says Lila, who • made sure the gift got St. Clair to the girl, with a note that read “Never, never, never stop believing! – Santa.” Lila smiles, her eyes twinkling. “I’m not rich by any means, but I believe if you do something for someone in the right spirit, there’s magic that happens. You’ll get much more out of giving than receiving.” To arrange a group visit to see the reindeer, call Lila at 314-974-1644 or e-mail “Reindeer” at sunnypinesminis@ You may purchase a copy of “Lula Belle’s Jewels: The Christmas Wish of Mrs. Claus” at or through local booksellers. 36 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2012

Rural Missouri - December 2012
Table of Contents
Faith in fruitcakes
Best of rural Missouri
Pursuing dreams
Out of the Way Eats
Beauty from math and metal
Spreading the Masonic message
Hearth and Home
Rooted in Missouri
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - December 2012