Usually Santa is the one giving the gifts, but the Pekin Firefighters Local 524 gave Santa a gift this year — a new house.

It is a longstanding tradition for many area children to visit Santa Claus in his “Santa House,” located in front of the Tazewell County Courthouse, to make sure he knows they’re on the “good list.”

Tom Veatch with the Pekin Firefighters Local 524 said Scott Lauss, the man playing Santa, has always been there when the firefighters have asked him to be part of their annual Christmas party. Veatch said he and fellow firefighters knew the Santa House was in need of some TLC. 

“At first, we were just going to remodel it,” said Veatch. “Then when we got in there, (and) we saw the floor was rotten, the roof was bad and it needed other repairs. We decided it’d be best if we just built a new one.”

Tony Rendleman and Matt Rademaker coordinated efforts. It took a team of firefighters from Station 3 and a few from other stations about four days to complete the job. They worked on it on a volunteer basis outside of their regular hours. 

Veatch said when they built it they installed several tow hooks so it could be transported. Tazewell Towing came and picked it up and took it to downtown Pekin so the Santa House was in place at 342 Court St.

The unveiling of the new Santa House was on Friday, Nov. 24. Lauss knew the firefighters were going to fix it but did not know they made a new one. 

“He was completely overjoyed,” Veatch said. “He told me, ‘It looks really good but it needs kids inside it.’”

The doors officially opened to the new Santa House and children were able to come in and visit with Santa and give him their wish lists this year.

“It was pretty awesome to see,” said Veatch. “It was awesome to see how our guys came together to help make something that’ll be there for the next 15 to 20 years. It was great. We have so many great people doing so many little things for the community behind the scenes.”

Mayor John McCabe attended the unveiling. He said it was “quite commendable” that the firefighters took the initiative to build it and was proud of them for helping someone who has been part of the Santa House for years.

“It is a great reflection on them as members of our community,” said McCabe.

Santa will be in his new Santa House for visits from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 23.