MIDLAND, Mich. -- It's not easy being Santa Claus.
Just ask the men and women who get a jump-start on the holiday season with three days of training at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School.
The session begins with classroom work on St. Nicholas traditions worldwide. Then comes instruction on makeup, wigs and beards, wardrobe, music, even sign language.
Santa students also learn a few dance steps and observe each other interacting with local students, Booth News Service reported Sunday. A special education teacher offers tips on communicating with special-needs children.
Annual field trips to toy stores and Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth highlight what's new for each season.
Tuition is $260, or $130 for returning students, but that's just a fraction of a Santa's expenses. A good wool suit can cost $1,000 and a natural-looking wig and beard runs from $500 to $2,500.
"It's quite an investment to do it right," said Tom Valent, dean of the school, which also offers a presentation from a tax accountant.
Fifty men and women from 17 states attended the school this year. More than half were veterans who said they never stop learning.
"There's always new ideas floating around," said William Sadowski, who's been a Chicago-are Santa for seven Christmas seasons.
The school's founder, Charles W. Howard, was technical adviser for the Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street." After his death in 1968, longtime student Nate Doan moved the school moved from Albany, N.Y., to Bay City. Valent and his wife began assisting Doan in the 1970s and moved the school to Midland in 1987.
"The toys have changed," Valent said, "but the children are the same."
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Gov. Don Sundquist has refused to proclaim a "Vegetarian Month," leaving a vegetarian group with a bad taste.
"He is discriminating against vegetarians," said Lige Weill, president of the Knoxville-based Tennessee Vegetarian Society. "They sign proclamations for everything: baton twirling, anything."
Sundquist spokeswoman Melanie Catania told The Tennessean newspaper that such proclamations "are a tool to promote a positive message ... We don't use proclamations to get involved in political arguments, and this fell into that category."
The proposed proclamation says, "Our food supply should be safe and wholesome, rather than laced with pathogens, fat, cholesterol, hormones and carcinogens leading to heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic afflictions that each year cripple and kill millions."
It says meat farms destroy public lands and waterways, deplete water, soil and energy resources and that animals raised for food are often mishandled and mistreated.
Weill said the governor was free to tone down the language.
Former Govs. Lamar Alexander and Ned McWherter rejected similar proclamations.
Alexander ultimately proclaimed a "World Vegetarian Day" in 1986 and was then criticized by livestock growers and the meat industry. He subsequently signed proclamations for the beef, pork and poultry industries and served beef at a luncheon on "Vegetarian Day."
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ONTARIO, Calif. -- The commute between Los Angeles and San Bernardino just got faster.
A 14-mile stretch of concrete and steel opened Sunday, extending State Route 210, or the Foothill Freeway, from La Verne to Rancho Cucamonga, where the road links across Interstate-15 to Fontana.
Just hours after the freeway opened, Raymond Gibson, 20, of Glendora, became the first driver to receive a ticket on the new roadway.
"I'm proud of that," Gibson told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune when he learned he was the first driver cited for speeding at 85 mph.
The freeway is expected to remove about 43,000 drivers from city streets. It also will shorten the five-hour trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
"We're on time and on budget," said state Transportation and Housing Secretary Maria Contreras-Sweet, referring to the $689 million project.
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ROGERS, Ark. -- Even all the librarians at Rogers Public Library couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
A vandal sliced the head of the doll, and also damaged a stuffed wolf and a stuffed bear, though the stuffed animals were expected to be repaired.
"They slashed Humpty Dumpty's head, cut a leg off the wolf and whacked an arm off a bear," said Fran Levine, the library's assistant director.
"We were not able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again," Levine said. "He was not cut on a seam."
The vandal apparently also either stole 20 hand puppets or hid them so well that librarians cannot find them, Levine said Friday.
The "malicious incident" caused about $550 damage to the puppets, library director Judy Casey said.
The library has anywhere from 700 to 1,000 visitors each day, with 588 people in the children's section on Nov. 7, when the damage occurred during library hours.
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DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. -- Nearly a year after the city became California's first government entity to file for bankruptcy in seven years, Mayor Matt Weyuker said he's declaring bankruptcy, too.
Financially crippled by a legal dispute involving a former employer, Weyuker confirmed in a letter to residents that he has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
In the letter, Weyuker, 69, said he was wrongly fired from his position at a university and a subsequent lawsuit coupled with a weakened stock market have sapped him and his wife of their savings.
"We are, of course, deeply embarrassed by this turn of events," wrote Weyuker, who has been mayor since 1999. "We simply ran out of money and other assets ..."
Last year, the city filed for protection under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code. The emergency measure allows the city to protect its assets and property while adjusting its debt - estimated at $8 million.
The bankruptcy filing last December was the first by a government entity in California since Orange County filed for protection in 1994, after losing more than $1.5 billion on its investments, according to the League of California Cities.
Weyuker, who said he has no plans to resign as mayor, worked at Western University of Health Sciences, based in Pomona, for 21 years and was serving as director of government relations when he was elected mayor in November 1999. After being fired in July 2000, he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging age bias. The case is set for trial in 2003.
A call Sunday to a Western University spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
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