Joy Ackerman and doll

Joy Ackerman, of rural Hillsboro, holds her 36-year-old Cabbage Patch Kid doll, Anita, that she received for Christmas when she was 7. 

Adam Smelden asked Santa Claus for a Nintendo, a ghetto blaster and a G.I. Joe play set in the Dec. 26, 1988 Christmas issue of the Hillsboro Banner.

The manager at Hillsboro Lumber asked Kris Kringle for a Santa Bear two years earlier.

Although it’s been 35 years, Smelden still sounds like a man who’d like a do-over on the teddy bear.

“I think he may have actually brought me one that year,” Smelden said.

Each year around this time, the Banner prints more than 100 letters from kids asking Santa to bring them every kind of toy, trinket and tech under the sun on Christmas Eve.

Over the years, those kids grow up, graduate and move on with their lives – and those carefully crafted letters they sent to Santa decades earlier become lost and forgotten.

Although that isn’t always where the story ends.

Armed with a searchable database that extends back more than a century, the Banner this week reached out to more than a dozen locals to ask about their decades-old letters to Santa.

We quizzed people on what they thought they had asked for as kids, read them their archived letters and asked them whether the jolly old elf fulfilled their Christmas wishes years ago.

Smelden said he’s confident that Santa delivered a ghetto blaster and a Santa Bear to him as a kid. Although it may have helped his cause that Smelden told Santa “I love you” in his first letter in 1986.

“Holy crud. I actually wrote that?” Smelden asked with a laugh Monday.

Stacy Smelden, Adam’s wife and store manager at Miller’s Fresh Foods in Hillsboro, asked Santa for a Barbie, poster, paint set and game in her letter in 1988.

The 40-year-old Hillsboro native said she couldn’t remember whether she landed the Barbie, especially since she and her sister probably had 30 to 40 of them.

“If I did, it was probably added to the pile,” she said.

Paul Kozojed, a member of the Hillsboro School Board, guessed that he asked for a toy tractor in the Dec. 19, 1974 issue of the Banner. He was close.

The 53-year-old Hillsboro-area farmer wrote to Santa requesting a bulldozer – along with a name tag for his dog, Brandy.

Kozojed said he’s fairly certain Brandy – a beagle the family received from former Hillsboro Elementary School Principal Bill Schumacher – got a new collar that year.

Another area farmer, Jason Lovas took a straightforward approach to the North Pole’s generous gift-giver in a letter Dec. 22, 1986.

“Dear Santa, How heavy are you? I bet you are going to make those reindeer tug and push! I want a train set,” he wrote in his letter.

Lovas, 42, said Monday he believes he unwrapped the train set that year and comically backpedaled from his questions asking about Santa’s weight.

“Apparently in 1986 I hadn’t mastered societal interactions and didn’t realize I shouldn’t be asking about people’s medical conditions or weight,” he said.

“We’re all taught that Santa is a big, jolly man with a big belly that jiggles but I wasn’t dialed into (being politically correct) back then.”

Carissa Olsen of Hillsboro, who serves as CEO and president at NoKota Packers in Buxton, assumed she asked for a new bike in her letter in 1998.

Actually, she asked Santa for a new kitchen set and “all the army gear.”

Kringle brought the kitchen set but thankfully left the army gear at the elves’ workshop.

“I had a cousin who really liked G.I. Joe so maybe that was where that came from. That’s sort of hilarious,” Olsen said.

Hillsboro-Central Valley football coach Scott Olsen, Carissa’s husband, asked Santa for a remote-control race car and new high tops with different shoelaces that same year.

Why the different shoelaces?

“That must have been a thing back then – having fancy laces on your shoes,” he said.

Dustin Nagel, branch president at Dakota Heritage Bank in Hillsboro, had plenty of requests in his Dec. 28, 1992 letter to Santa, even though he admitted to being “good and bad.”

“I want a new bike, a sewer spitting turtle, the claw race car, a pan of cookies, a wooden bat, thousand dollars, Nerf bow and arrow, and a Super Van City with Micro Machines,” he wrote.

Not surprisingly, the 34-year-old Nagel said he did not pocket $1,000 in cash on Christmas morning.

“I had quite the ambitious list,” he said. “I didn’t get the thousand dollars or the wooden bat, but I may have gotten the bike. I know I got one for Christmas one of those years around that time.”

Jamie Reed, Hillsboro’s 50-year-old fire chief, asked for a Big Wheel in his letter in December 1975 and for walkie-talkies the following year. He thinks he received the latter.

“Walkie-talkies were big around that time but I don’t know about the Big Wheel,” he said.

Andrew Grothmann, branch manager at AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Hillsboro, wasn’t surprised to learn he asked for a Terrell Davis poster in the Dec. 19, 1998 edition of the Banner.

That year coincided with a Super Bowl win by the Denver Broncos and Grothmann was a huge fan of Davis, the Broncos’ star running back, and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

Grothmann said Santa didn’t deliver the poster he was asked to bring that year.

Instead, he swooped the chimney with Davis’ No. 30 jersey.

I think I eventually got an Elway one, too,” Grothmann said.

Nicole Haffely, a personal banker at The Goose River Bank in Hillsboro, requested a bike, a Nintendo and a new cat in her Santa letter in 1988.

Her cat departed for kitty heaven the previous year after a tussle with the family dog.

Santa didn’t deliver a feline that year but Haffely thinks the Nintendo was under the tree that Christmas.

Kristy Pastian, a 50-year-old registered nurse living in Hillsboro, guessed she wrote to Santa in the Dec. 23, 1976 issue of the Banner hoping to get “some stupid doll or kitchen set.” She was close.

Pastian said she’d like a cash register and a feeding set for her dolly, Lori, that year, along with some toys for her 10-month-old brother, Dennis Lee.

“I don’t remember whether I got either of them, to tell you the truth,” Pastian said. “I might’ve gotten some accessories for the doll but that was 45 years ago.”

Banner publisher Cory Erickson probably had help from his parents writing his letter in 1988.

The then-3-year-old asked for a “whopper Play-Doh set, a Nintendo, a combine like Grandpa’s, a bowling set, a garage for my matchbox cars, color racers, a real puppy and a Cinderella video tape.”

The 36-year-old newspaper owner said Santa may have left the Cinderella tape in his sleigh.

“I’m guessing my dad put the kibosh on that,” he said. “But I know I received a Nintendo around then.”

Chrissy Torgerson, a wound care specialty nurse living in Hillsboro, guessed her 8-year-old self asked Santa for an American Doll or a comforter in the Banner’s Dec. 25, 1989 edition.

Instead, she requested “a Barbie, a dollhouse, a tiny panda bear and a roll of paper.”

The 40-year-old said she never had a dollhouse growing up and she laughingly can’t remember unwrapping a roll of paper.

“The Barbie part doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “I was a Barbie nut. That may have been the year I ended up getting Peaches and Cream Barbie though, which ended up being my favorite.”

Brooke Duval, another member of the Hillsboro School Board, requested a troll, a Barbie and a kitten in her letter in December 1992.

The 34-year-old child protection worker definitely did not get a kitten but said it’s highly likely she received a little troll doll or Barbie that year.

Billie Jo Soholt, a Hillsboro native and principal at Peter Boe Jr. Elementary School in Mayville, also asked Kringle for a troll in 1992, although she can’t remember why.

“I may have copied off the person sitting next to me in class,” Soholt said with a laugh. “But I was probably 7 and trolls were cool back then.”

Joy Ackerman, who lives on a farm south of Hillsboro, came the closest to nailing her Christmas wish.

The 43-year-old informed Saint Nicholas that she was one of the seven swans a swimming in her school’s Christmas program and asked him for a single present.

Ackerman guessed she asked Santa for a Cabbage Patch Kid – and she was right.

“Her name was Anita – and she had pigtails and a pink dress and a pacifier,” she said. “I’m pretty sure she’s still in a tote somewhere around here.”

Asked why she named her new bundle of toy Anita, Ackerman said that wasn’t her call.

“Every Cabbage Patch Kid came with its own birth certificate so you don’t know their name until you open them up,” she said. “So you find one on a shelf and open it and you get what you get.”

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