Elvin Conrad Altenbernd

M, #132, b. 20 February 1926, d. 26 May 1998
Relationship
3rd cousin of Sheila Sue Altenbernd
Father*Otto Henry Altenbernd b. 26 August 1902, d. January 1970
Mother*Marie J. Unknown b. 10 April 1898, d. January 1987
     Elvin was born on 20 February 1926.1,2,3 He was the son of Otto Henry Altenbernd and Marie J. Unknown.
     Elvin Conrad Altenbernd also went by the name of Tubby.
     The following is extracted from the records of John Altenbernd.

Elvin had polio as a child, and, although he could walk, running was an effort. The usual sports would not be his to play. He was a heavy fellow (and was nicknamed "Tubby" when he got to high school). He began losing his hair already in grade school and was virtually bald by the time he was 20. He was a jovial fellow with an enormous belly laugh that turned his face red. He graduated from Kansas University and the Kansas School of Medicine. He is now a surgeon(as of 1991) in Prairie Village, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. His wife, Mary(a nurse), I have never met, and he have four children. After his father died, Elvin and his family moved back to the old homestead, and he commutes from there to his practice.

Sometime around the Spring of 1940, I think, Elvin Altenbernd had surgery on both of his feet.

Elvin had had polio when he was quite small. He was old enough at the time to remember it happening. "I woke up one morning," Elvin once said, "and I didn't have any control over my leg muscles."

Elvin walked again, but with some difficulty. He could run, after a fashion. A fast walker could beat him in a race. His feet were somewhat twisted and misshapen. Elvin had known for a long time that surgery was in the offing eventually. There was some reason for waiting until he was older, but I don't know what it was. Elvin underwent the surgery and came home on crutches with both feet in casts. As the feet healed, he dispensed with the crutches and became quite adept at walking, even running, with the casts.

Eventually the casts were removed. Elvin's feet were still far from normal. He had to wear specially built shoes ?? and I suppose he still does. But he could certainly walk with greater ease. He could walk at a normal pace so long as he didn't have to keep it up too long. He managed to do his share of work around the farm. His experience, I'm sure, was a major deciding factor in his decision to become a surgeon.
___________________________

The following article appeared in the November 24, 1990 edition of the Kansas City Star.

SANTA SUITS HIM
Early Claus encounter resulted in holiday habit.
By Jennifer Howe, Staff Writer

Even 60 years later, describing his first visit from Santa Claus brings tears to Dr. Elvin C. Altenbernd's blue eyes.

As the Christmas of 1929 approached, he was 4 years old and paralyzed with polio. He passed agonizingly long days on the living room sofa of his family's Eudora, Kan. farmhouse. His mother came in every 15 minutes to crank the phonograph and flip the record, the only available entertainment for a little boy who could not sit up. He grew more and more listless; his parents grew more and more worried.

Then something happened that shaped his Christmases for years to come. Santa Claus burst into his house booming, "Where's Elvin?" For almost an hour, the man in the red suit sat with him, listened to his Christmas wish list and promised to return Christmas Eve. "Total excitement" filled the days in between, Altenbernd said. "My tummy was full of butterflies all the time."

It's a feeling Altenbernd works to pass on today. At 64, he is preparing for his 37th season as Santa. Eleven months of the year, he is a jovial family physician who urges his smallest patients to call him "Dr. Tubby." But come December, he trades his white lab coat for a red velour suit and a yak?hair beard. The "ho?ho?ho's" boom up from deep in his chest, and when he does the twist with a belt of 52 sleigh bells buckled around his sizable belly, he is a one, man commotion.

"He's the most robust guy I have ever seen," said Trudy Lutz, activities director at the Eudora Nursing Center in Eudora. Kansas City area nursing homes, schools, and hospitals are among Altenbernd's holiday stops. "When he puts on that suit, he really, truly is Santa Claus."

His own mother once failed to recognize him. Over the years he also has fooled one of his dogs, all four of his children and hundreds of Cub Scouts. But most treasured are the times he has brushed the faces of ill children with his soft beard and seen smiles spread beneath tubes and oxygen masks.

He accepts no pay, and by Dec. 26, he will barely be able to croak out a conversation. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"Once I was in the suit 10 minutes," he said, "I was sold on it."

SANTA'S INSPIRATION

Just home from a Saturday at his Overland Park clinic, Altenbernd collapsed in an easy chair in his Eudora farmhouse, where he and his father and grandfather were born in the same room. Surrounding the two?story stucco house are 135 acres awaiting spring planting. In the yard is a big gray dog that hurls itself at visitors, barking and licking. The family room floor now covers the doorstep where Santa Claus stood peeping in a leaded, glass window that evening in late November 1929.

"The dogs were barking like I had never heard dogs bark before," Altenbernd recalled, his chin quivering. "I can remember a shadow and a lot of commotion at the door." Then Santa Claus was sitting on the edge of the sofa, handing him the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and asking him to pick out what he wanted. It took 45 minutes and two sheets of paper to list everything.

Weeks later, Altenbernd did not notice that he received only fraction of the things he listed. The gift he liked best was a wind, up car that sputtered and popped until it rolled to a stop.

"I laughed for the first time since I got sick," he said, wiping a tear. "The whole thing was designed to spark some interest in life in me again, and it sure worked."

He began learning to walk again that spring.

Eventually, he realized Santa's bulging pack had been a gunnysack full of straw, his beard cotton, the face underneath his uncle's.

"It didn't take away from the magic of that visit one bit."

And more than 20 years later, those magical minutes with Santa did more to push him into a red suit than months of wheedling from others. At first, he had no intention of becoming Santa Claus.

DRAFTED FOR CLAUS DUTY

It was July 1954 and Altenbernd's first day as an intern at Bethany Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. Chaplain Donald Houts took one look and pegged him as Santa Claus material. He had the right physique, the hearty laugh and "a kind of effervescence," recalled Houts, who now lives in Illinois. "I sensed in him a man who really had a lot of joy."

He popped the question before Altenbernd even reached his assigned post.

"I wanted to go to meet the surgeons, get scrubbed in and learn something, and here he nails me with this Santa Claus thing," Altenbernd said.

He tried to brush him off, but whenever he passed the chaplain's office in the months afterward, a voice called, "Hey! Are you going to be our Santa Claus?"

Altenbernd could not help thinking about how sick some of the children in the pediatrics ward were. "I identified with them."

So he began practicing his "Ho?ho?ho!" in the car on the way to work, amused to see other drivers changing lanes to get away from him. On the appointed night, his wife, Mary, sewed him into the hospital's threadbare Santa suit, and he was off to the pediatrics ward.

He did not have to change much for the role, said Mary Peters, who was the ward's head nurse then. "As soon as you met him, he was your buddy. He wasn't aloof like so many of them when they came in to be an intern. He was just jolly....

"The children really thought he was the real thing because he knew so much about them. They had no idea he had treated them the day before."

A 3 year old leukemia patient, bleeding and full of tubes, made a deep impression on Altenbernd that night.

"I bent over her bed and whisked her face with my beard. She said, "Santa Claus!" She was so sick that was all she could say...She didn't live until Christmas."

Before long, Mary Altenbernd was shopping for red fabric. Her husband had found a new calling.

A BOOK IS BORN

In his decades as Santa, the notes Altenbernd used to scribble after incidents he found funny or touching overflowed from a spindle into a shoebox. Now many of those anecdotes are in his newly published book, "Thirty Five Years in the Red".

In longhand on yellow tablets, he wrote the book at the same kitchen table he lay on for a spinal tap at age 4. It took him five years.

"I could only work on it at Christmas time," he said. "It takes a certain mood, an inner spirit, to get me to relive it all."

Among the scraps of paper were memories of:
.      The nuns at the old St. Margaret's Hospital ushering him into a room where "a very elderly lady, probably in her 90s lay motionless with her eyes closed." He leaned over the bed, speaking softly to her. "Suddenly she opened her eyes ... Then she smiled and said, 'Santa Claus.' " He heard a murmur run through the group huddled in the doorway. The woman, the nuns told him, had not spoken in three years.
.      The day he went to a bank drive up window in what he calls his "Santa regalia." To get the teller's attention, he let loose his heartiest "Ho?ho?ho!" "She just threw up her hands, screamed and fell over in a dead faint" ?? after summoning the police with an alarm button. Earlier that day, another Santa Claus had robbed the bank.

WIDE RANGING ELF

Altenbernd's first Santa suit took 6 yards of material. The latest took 14.

Curious kids who poke him in the belly quickly find out it's paunch, not pillow, Altenbernd said with a chuckle.

When his children were small, he kept his get up at the office. Every Christmas, he would get an emergency phone call from the hospital, his cue to rush to the office and jump into his suit.

"He'd sneak up to the house and bang on the big picture window, and we would just get frantic," said daughter Anne Altenbernd?Wayne. "We were just in awe. We never thought about him being missing."

And they were never too old to enjoy a visit from him, she said. She was thrilled at 15 when he crashed her friend's slumber party and, a few years later, when he showed up at her college dorm.

When the residents at the Eudora Nursing Center heard he was coming last year, "They said, 'We're a little old for this Santa business,' " said activities director Lutz. "But when he came prancing in here and did his little jig with those bells on, I'm laughing just thinking about it, there wasn't anybody in the whole room who wasn't hysterical....

"There's a child in all of us that still really wants to believe in Santa Claus. He brings that out. Mary Altenbernd sees her husband's excitement rekindled each year, along about July, when he crows, "I got my first call for Santa Claus today!"

Once December comes, she seldom sees him. "But no matter how hoarse he gets, he just keeps on going," she said.

"Every year there is a need for Santa Claus, especially this year," Altenbernd said. "Everything we hear is so depressing" ?? threats of war and economic problems ?? "and everyone is somewhat withdrawn. "I think Santa Claus represents the one ray of hope and true joy amongst people."

Sixty Christmases ago, Santa gave a little Kansas farm boy the nudge he needed to walk again, he said. "I just hope that somewhere, one of the little kids I have played Santa Claus to will be inspired to carry on my work."
_________________________________________________________________

Elvin is a doctor in Prairie Village, Kansas. He and Mary have four children. Elvin has written a book, "Thirty-five Years in the Red" which recounts his years as Santa Claus.

Elvin operated the family farm from 1971 to 1983.

Elvin and his wife Mary have a crypt in the Lakeview C section of Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas where they will be buried. This is next to Elvin's parents, Otto and Marie.

Elvin suffered a heart attack on September 10, 1993. He decided to take a leave of absence from work beginning on January 1, 1994. That will give him lots of time for sleeping and fishing.

The following his Elvin's 1994 Christmas letter.
"HO! HO! HO! Here's wishing each of you a Merry Christmas.

Another year has come and gone and I have been officially retired since July 1. Time has gone so fast I don't know how I did a full day of medical practice and kept up with it all. For sure one thing I have forgotten is how to hurry or do several things at one time.

I have enjoyed the leisure time doing what I want to do when I want do and the way I like to do it. Most of my time is spent playing my classical CD's and fishing and fishing etc.

I have sold my office to a young lady and her husband -- I had the honor of giving her the first spanking in her life and probably the best. She will be using the medical office part for her practice of cosmetology along with 2-3 of her associates and also a hairdresser. Her husband will be using the garage part to convert vans into leisure-vans.

All of my family is doing well and working hard at their life's work -- David and Mark are farming and in between they are driving 18 wheelers hauling frozen meat all over the country. Missy (Anne) is finding it harder to keep up with 2 lively boys and still work as a social worker for Shawnee Mission Hospital and still find time to be a cub scout den mother. Karen still hides out in Gilbart Ariz. and is busy teaching students anatomy in a local college.

Bernice who has been such a help to me in the last 10 years has found a low stress-fun job as hobbyist for a local hobby shop. She manages the crafts department -- Crafts and raising flowers she has done since childhood.

Here's hoping to see you soon.
                    'Tubby' M.D.S.C."

     Elvin worked. He worked as Medical Doctor.
     Elvin Conrad Altenbernd was listed as Otto Henry Altenbernd's son on the 1940 US Federal Census of Eudora Township, Douglas County, Kansas, enumerated 13 May 1940. Elvin's age at his last birth date was listed as 14. He was born in Kansas. He was single. He had attended school since March 1, 1940. His highest grade completed was 8th.4 His address on April 1, 1935 was Eudora Township, Kansas. He did work the week of March 25 to March 30, 1940.4
     He applied for his social security number in Kansas, USA, in 1951; 509-32-7929.2
     Elvin Conrad Altenbernd married Mary Ellen Wiltse, in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA, on 12 June 1954.3
     Elvin Conrad Altenbernd lived at 1583 East 1900 Road, Eudora, Douglas County, Kansas, USA, in December 1991.
     Elvin Conrad was unable to attend the funeral of Homer C.5
     Elvin died on 26 May 1998 in Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas, USA, at age 72.2
Last Edited=26 June 2009

Family: Elvin Conrad Altenbernd and Mary Ellen Wiltse

Citations

  1. [S108] Unknown repository address, unknown name of person Cemetery Marker; Read by Sheila Altenbernd (#172).
  2. [S14] SSDI, unknown file number, Social Security Death Index, unknown series (www.ancestry.com: Ancestry, 1995) . Hereinafter cited as Social Security Death Index.
  3. [S793] Elvin Altenbernd and Mary Wiltse marriage, June 12, 1954, Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah, USA. Viewed on Ancestry.com.
  4. [S509] Otto Altenbernd (#79) household, 1940 U.S. Federal Census, Douglas County, Kansas, population schedule, town of Eudora Township, enumeration district (ED) 23-3, supervisor's district (SD) 8, sheet 8A, dwelling 183, National Archives micropublication . Viewed at www.ancestry.com . Hereinafter cited as 1940 Census.
  5. [S194] Norma Wichman unknown date.
 

Compiler: Sheila Altenbernd
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