Santa arrived at the farmhouse along S. Pine Central Road in non-traditional style Sunday, Dec. 20 — behind the wheel of a silver truck.
He offered a candy cane to Trevor LaBounty, 7, and they stood together for a minute. Trevor's grandmother, Shauna, encouraged them to sit down together on the sand pile in the front yard.
Soon the 7-year-old opened up. He took Santa on a tour of the Douglas County farm, showed him some four-wheeler tricks and capped off the visit with hugs all around. Santa even got to pet a cow.
"This is the happiest he's been all week," Shauna said as she watched Trevor race around chatting with Santa.
Inside the suit, 17-year-old William Ziegler was hoping to make a positive impression.
"When I first met Santa I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I hope I can do the same thing for these kids," said Ziegler, a junior at Northwestern High School.
Ziegler wasn't expecting to become Santa, but he volunteered to do it when his mother, Michelle, pulled out the red suit. She said the family got the suit two years ago for her husband, Will, to wear when their grandchild was born. It's been packed away ever since.
They posted on Facebook that Ziegler would be willing to visit children in the area. Within half an hour, they had seven people request a visit. Many will take place Christmas Eve; one will be a video chat. The chance to see Santa in person, Shauna said, was "a literal prayer answered."
On the sand pile, Ziegler told Trevor that his hard work had landed him on the good list. The teen answered questions, letting the 7-year-old set the pace.
When asked where Mrs. Claus was, Ziegler told Trevor she stayed home because she wasn't feeling good.
"Does she have the 'rona?" the 7-year-old asked.
"No, she just has a stuffy nose," Ziegler said.
"What's Rudolph doing?" Trevor asked.
"He was eating when I left him. He eats a lot," Ziegler said, mainly grain and hay.
Trevor suggested feeding the reindeer candy canes, then shared his Christmas list with Santa: Dragons, skid-steers, trucks, Legos and puzzles. Then it was time for action.
"I want to show Santa my four-wheeler," he said, suiting up in a dinosaur helmet and gloves.
After setting up a jump with an old mailbox and two long boards, he took the four-wheeler over it.
"Aw, sweet," Ziegler said.
COVID-19 restrictions have been tough on the 7-year-old, who has special needs and is homebound. October was the last time he had a visitor other than family, Shauna said.
"It's just been an incredibly hard year," she said.
They usually visit the quiet Santa event at Fairlawn Mansion in Superior, but it was canceled. Trevor also missed catching Santa's appearance in the Christmas City of the North Parade. He was worried, Shauna said, that he was on the naughty list. Ziegler's one-on-one visit put his mind at ease. He pulled his grandmother into a hug during the visit.
"Did you hear him? I'm on the good list," Trevor said before launching into more four-wheeler tricks.
After petting Mystery the cow, Santa headed out to reunite with the reindeer. He told Trevor they were parked at Amnicon Falls. But it might not be the last time the two see each other. While they were touring the farm, Michelle chatted with the adults.
The two families live just a few miles apart on the same road in Lakeside on opposite sides of Highway 13. Michelle said all three of her sons — 17-year-old William and his two brothers, ages 14 and 15, may come visit with Trevor again in the future without the suit.
This story was updated at 8:10 a.m. Dec. 22, 2020, clarifying the distance between the two families. It was originally posted at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 22, 2020.