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The students never knew their Santa was a Sub

Artamus Ward Students celebrate an early Christmas



Madness erupted at Artemus Ward Elementary School last Friday. It was the same kind of madness that erupts at the school each year at this time.

Pandemonium began in earnest the moment a substitute Santa Claus, a festive elf, two Chix-Filet Cows and a very real Superman crossed paths at the Westside school. Their sole purpose was the spread of holiday cheer.

Veteran educators were seen grinning from ear-to-ear as the convoy marched through the school. CMSD scholars, not that long out of diapers, were a non-stop chorus of whooping and hollering. At one point, Cory Beets, the school’s assistant principal, was reduced to tears as she watched students gratefully embrace the gifts and affection they were being given.

“It is one of the most exciting days of their lives,” said Beets as she watched Santa Claus and the Elf work a class of First Graders into a pubescent frenzy.

“Even before they knew Santa was coming with gifts, they were so happy. They were high fiving each other, just because they were in the moment. I can’t even imagine what’s going through their minds,” said Beets.

Donovan, an expressive First Grader, knew exactly what was going through his mind.

Superman talking to his mom  “This is the best day ever and it’s the craziest day, too,” he bellowed for everyone to hear..                                              


Jeff Szwagulak is the Superman that made it possible. He’s developing quite a reputation for his charity. A professional camera crew was on hand to document the celebration this year for Huntington Bank, the event's primary financial sponsor.

Szwagulak, or “Swag” as he is affectionately known, is the school’s gym teacher and the founder and organizer of the school’s “Every Child Gets a Christmas Celebration.” This was the 7th year of the celebration, which continued even when CMSD schools were forced into remote learning.

Szwagulak talks with his mother Joan Szwagulak in the photo to the left.    

Huntington Bank donated several thousand dollars to the effort -- as it has in the past -- to help keep Swag’s vision alive. Matt Woods, another friend of Swag, who owns a Chick-fil-A franchise in Lorain County, wanted in on the actions. He was responsible for bringing the cows, two costumed characters who entertained the students. He also gifted the students with miniature stuffed cows and Chick-fil-A  gift certificates.

Ken Yoder, the substitute Santa Claus, was the one who stole the show, however. He had received a call the evening before the celebration that the original Santa slated to visit the school had fallen ill.

Yoder’s son, who was scheduled to work as the lighting assistant for the documentary film crew, asked his father to stand in for Santa. Yoder, who lives in Hartsville, some 50 miles south of Cleveland, promptly agreed.  

Although he says he had never donned a Santa suit, Yoder found one that fit. And he looked good in it. He also convinced his wife of 44 years, Susan, to be his elf on the Christmas adventure.  

The couple nailed it. The Artemus Ward scholars never knew their Santa was a sub.