by Dennis Dalman
This Christmas, Santa Claus arrived late for 8-year-old Ben Hengel of Sartell – three weeks late, to be exact.
But when Santa finally “delivered,” on Jan. 15, Hengel was all smiles and wide-eyed when he saw the return address on a Christmas package from the mailbox. In the upper-left corner was written “Santa Claus.”
It was then that Ben knew Santa must have received his “Dear Santa” letter, after all.
In November, David and Jenn Hengel decided to put up a Christmas tree early because son Ben is so wild about Christmas. He loves everything about it – the lights, the songs, the special snuggle-up times at home when it’s snowing outside, the eager expectation of a visit from Santa Claus.
In mid-December, the Hengel family decided to attend the night-time Country Lights Festival in Sartell, an extravagant, dazzling lights display all around Lake Francis, a large holding pond by the community center. So first, they bundled up – parents; son Jack, 10; and twins Ben and Natalie, 8. The children brought with them the “Dear Santa” letters they intended to send from a letter box at the lights festival. In the breezy, chilly air, the family walked around the lake on a path, enjoying the spectacular displays. At the postal drop box, Jack and Natalie slipped in their Santa letters. But Ben, reaching in his coat pockets, came up empty.
“I can’t find my letter!” he said.
The family walked back around the lake, seeking the truant letter, but they had no luck. The letter was gone, maybe flung out onto the lake by the breeze. Ben’s parents told him not to fret, that Santa would be sure to bring him presents, letter or no letter.
Along came Christmas Day. Jack opened a box containing a chemistry set and telescope and Natalie received her longed-for karaoke machine. Santa had granted their wishes. Ben liked his gifts too, but they weren’t the ones he’d written about to Santa, the ones he’d mentioned in the lost letter.
Flash forward to Jan. 15, the day Santa dropped off Ben’s gift in the mailbox. He opened the present and there were three hockey pucks, some hockey-stick tape and hockey wax – just the items he’d requested from Santa.
There was a letter from Santa to Ben inside the box:
“I was told by one of my helpers that your letter was dropped near a lake with beautiful Christmas lights. I read your letter and saw that you were on the ‘Good List’ this year! I’ve got you a gift that got missed in my sleigh. I hope you can still use them. Enjoy! Hope you had a Merry Christmas. Have a Happy New Year. Have fun this year! – From Santa”
The entire family was just as surprised as Ben was when that present arrived, Jenn said in an interview the next day with the Sartell Newsleader.
She was very moved by such an unexpected gift of kindness from a total stranger.
“We had no clue, but we figured someone obviously had to have found that letter. And whoever it was took the time and expense to make a little boy so happy. It just goes to show people are absolutely capable of making other people’s lives better, even in small ways.”
Jenn said she will never forget the mysterious Santa package.
“It will always be a reminder that we all have the power to make somebody’s day happy.”
The Hengel children are being home-schooled, and it’s working well.
“The three of them, being home so much, have developed a very close friendship,” Jenn said.
Their parents are fortunate that they can work from home and help educate the children. David owns All Seasons Small Engine Repair, and is a volunteer Sartell firefighter; Jenn is vice president of project management at Central Minnesota Credit Union.