Ex-postal worker's search ends in reunion with Santa letter writer
Christmas Eve, 1990. Eight-year-old Willis Martin lay in bed, too excited to sleep, hoping that things would be different and Santa would find him this year.
He’d written a letter to Santa, after all, and given it to the regular mail carrier, Paul Vogt, who had walked that west Rockford route for close to 25 years.
Willis had reason to be excited because there were signs that 1990 would be a good Christmas. The family had a Christmas tree and there had been hints about Santa.
“You know how you’re always nervous the day of a big event? It was like that,” said Willis, now 25. The Guilford High School graduate is a concrete finisher with Local 11.
I remember looking up at the window, and I saw this flash of blue light. I thought it was Santa, and I was scared to leave the room.
“The next morning, I had a present to open.”
What he didn’t know until last week was that Paul Vogt and his wife, Janet, helped Santa do his work that year. A week ago, I wrote about the Vogts’ search for Willis.
They were reunited today at the Rockford Register Star News Tower.
That Christmas, the couple delivered a Christmas tree and the gifts from Santa. Both Janet and Paul, who retired about 15 years ago, were mail carriers back then.
Of the hundreds of “Dear Santa” letters they handled over the years they worked for the U.S. Postal Service, they kept only one. It was the one Willis wrote and gave to Paul. The mail carrier said Willis’ Santa letter was the only one he ever got that didn’t ask for anything except a visit.
I’ve inserted some commas in the letter for clarity. It read: “Dear Santa, last year you said you was coming to my house but you didn’t come, but can you come now on Christmas Eve, and I hope you have a nice Christmas and one more thing to say, Merry Christmas.”
Paul kept the letter in his bills-to-pay box all these years, handling it virtually every month and wondering each holiday season what happened to the little boy who wrote it. The family had moved off Paul’s mail route not long after Christmas that year. Paul contacted me a few weeks ago asking for help in finding Willis.
When the column appeared in the newspaper last Friday, Paul’s telephone began ringing. He said he got about 25 calls from people who lived on his old route but with whom he’d lost contact. He got a call from a postal worker in West Virginia and calls from numerous people who’d read about him and wanted to wish him well in the search for Willis.
Willis was at work when someone said to him: “I saw your name in the paper today. You used to write letters to Santa.” He admitted that he did.
Then, his mom, Erica Martin of Rockford, told him that Paul was looking for him. Willis called the Vogts that night.
The two met for the first time in 17 years at the Rockford Register Star News Tower on Thursday.
“How you doing, Paul?” Willis said, and the two embraced. “Man, man, man.”
Both were teary-eyed when the hug ended.
Paul handed Willis the letter, which was written in pencil. It’s soft from being handled an untold number of times over 17 years.
“I do remember it,” Willis said. “The year before, I got, like, one thing and I forgot what it was. So, I wrote to Santa the next year.
“I didn’t care what he had for me, I just wanted to see his face.”
Paul was eager to hear details of Willis’ life in the intervening 17 years. As a kid, Willis said, he retrieved broken lawnmowers from people’s garbage piles, fixed them and mowed lawns for neighbors.
“It kept a little money in my pocket,” he said. “I never relied on anybody to give me anything.”
He played football and other sports at Guilford High School, graduating in 2000.
“I was always into sports, not out there trying to be bad,” he said.
Willis works for All Weather Construction, although he’s laid off now because of the cold. His dad, Willie Davis, who also worked for local construction companies, now lives in Georgia.
Willis and his fiance, Latoya Brown, live in Rockford with her 8-year-old daughter, De’Nijah Wesson. He said the little girl was inspired by his story to write her own letter to Santa this year.
Willis said he was touched that his old friend Paul had kept the letter all this time.
“I had to come down here to show my appreciation,” he said of their meeting today. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen every day.”
Rockford Register Star