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December 02. 2012 7:42PM

Santa takes to bucket truck for Snow Ball Drop in Milford


Santa and Mrs. Claus get ready to drop a flurry of ping-pong balls at Milford's Snow Ball Drop on Saturday. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

Santa appeared nonchalant Saturday afternoon when a bucket truck lowered its basket for him and the Mrs. at Milford's Shepard Park. "I've been riding around with reindeer for years," he said. "This is nothing."

Once they were above the crowd of several hundred youngsters and grownups, the Clauses poured Ping-Pong balls down to the park for Milford's first Snow Ball Drop. The first round of "snowballs" was for kids who redeemed whatever they caught or picked up for holiday prizes.

The Clauses then made a second drop for adults who exchanged their Ping-Pong balls for coupons and discounts at local shops.

Hosted by the Milford Improvement Team (MIT), the event also featured voices from the Milford-based Souhegan Valley Chorus as they filled the park with holiday music. And there were cookies, treats and warm drinks to help the crowd fight off the cold, raw afternoon air.

"It's a small-town New England Christmas event," said resident Sue Carmen."It's community."

And that's what MIT was going for.

"I was pleased with the turnout and the number of businesses that participated," said Executive Director Tracy Hutchins.

Organized in the early '90s as the Milford Downtown Ongoing Improvement Team, or DO IT, the group worked for years to revitalize the downtown. But with storefronts now almost completely occupied, and with events taking place regularly on the Oval, Milford's town green, Hutchins said the focus has expanded to the whole town. "That's why we've moved out to the park."

Resident Nancy Duquette brought her grandson, 2-year-old Jordan Duquette, to check out Santa's latest twist in toy-and-gift delivery.

"He really just wants the Ping-Pong balls," she laughed.

While most kids scrambled to pick up balls in Saturday's fresh coat of snow, adults stood under Santa and tried catch the snowballs as they came pouring down. After the drop, a small tree from the Milford Rotary Club was lighted and then donated - stand, lights and all - to a family in need.

The official Christmas tree in the center of town was a gift from the Bonczar family, which has donated prized 25-footers over the past few years. "We planted these trees 18 years ago," said Bonczar who added they've outgrown most living rooms, but they work for town centers.

For Santa and Mrs. Clause, a.k.a. Ray and Sandy Hill of Milford, Saturday was a long day that started with a Santa breakfast in Keene and ended in the air over Shepard Park. The Hills have spent many holidays dressed as their alter egos, including a long stint as Christmas' first couple for the Milford Lions.

Ray Hill says that one of the biggest changes he's seen as Santa is the improvement in personal photography equipment. When they first started out, parents would grab a quick shot with a simple camera that used old-fashioned film. Today, parents, grandparents, family and friends come ready to shoot portraits and videos of a child's annual summit with Santa.

"It kind of slows things down a little, but I give every child as much time as they need," he said.

Sandy Hill agreed, and said that's the way it's supposed to be. "Every child has their moment," she said. "Christmas is their time."

btaormina@newstote.com


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