(WHTM) — The spirit of Christmas is alive and well in Perry County, thanks to one special man who answered a call from the North Pole nearly 40 years ago.

That call became his calling.

At age 17, Kenneth Hostler of Harrisburg was in the Navy and was recruited to become Santa’s helper. His mission was to help the big guy in red wherever he was stationed.

“I was already clean-shaven, so I glued cotton balls onto my face and for a mustache and for my eyebrows,” Hostler said.

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Like magic, Hostler grew to look like Father Christmas over time; no more cotton balls required.

But the magic of Christmas wasn’t immune to the pandemic.

“It felt even more important last year than any other year that we be as normal as possible,” he said.

Last year, Hostler and his Mrs. Claus set up visits on their porch.

“I can’t tell you the amount of mothers and grandmothers that stood in front of our porch last year, because we did it here, that cried,” Hostler said. “That’s moving.”

It was so successful, they decided to do it again this year, in addition to the other appearances specially assigned by Santa himself. At Little Buffalo State Park alone, Hostler saw more than 1,000 kids this year.

Many of those visits reminded him that even the tiniest hearts are capable of compassion. Some of the things kids wished for this year took his breath away, such as asking for “COVID to go away.”

“The season of Christmas is about hope…it’s about love,” he said. “This is a job you do not to pay your bills. This is a job you do to fill your heart and that’s what it does.”

Watch the video to hear more from Hostler and learn what Midstate kids are asking for this year.