Amelia and Ellie Buckner squealed with delight as they hurtled down the curving red slide atop Santa’s mountain at the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority in Hammond Thursday night.
The sisters, ages 2 ½ and 1, had just had a visit with Santa, who gave them candy canes and a, “Ho, ho, ho,” for good measure.
The girls were also mesmerized by the animated window scenes on display depicting scenes from the popular cult classic holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” based on the book by Hammond native Jean Shepherd.
Their dad Jonathan Buckner, had brought the whole Buckner family out for the Holiday For Heroes event at the visitors authority’s Indiana Welcome center.
Buckner, of Crown Point, and his sister Valarie, of Hammond, are both emergency medical technicians. EMTs were one of the groups honored at the event, organized exclusively for Northwest Indiana police, firefighters, EMS, military forces and Hoosier Helpers.
“I think it’s pretty awesome that they’re stepping up to give them some recognition,” said Buckner, who also brought his wife Bethany and other sister Amanda. “It’s nice to be honored because we normally deal with the worst.”
“I just wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Valarie Buckner said of her brother. “He set the bar high and I went through training and I currently work as an EMT. “They’re recognizing the unsung heroes that usually get put behind the scenes,” Valarie Buckner said of Thursday’s event. “This is amazing. It far exceeded my expectations. It’s a great honor and tradition for this region. I love it and I love always watching, ‘A Christmas Story’ on Christmas Day. It’s a great tradition for families.
Vietnam War veteran Ernie Dillon and his wife Margie also stopped by. Dillon, who served in the U.S. Air Force, enlisted right out of Hammond Tech. “I graduated in June and two weeks later I was on my way to bootcamp in Texas,” said Dillon, who served his tour of duty in Panama engaged in Hughie Helicopter Rescue and Recovery training missions.
“I think this is great,” said Dillon, a former South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority Board member, who’s been a member for 25 years with American Legion Post 168 in Hammond. Dillon hosts the award-winning Veterans Views Radio Show on Fridays on WJOB Radio. The show helps vets with benefits and claims and assisting them in other ways when they get out of the military.
Brian Webber brought his son Gage, 2, and daughter Kara, 5, of Schererville to the event. “This is very cool,” said Webber, an officer with the Hammond Police Department “I brought the kids to come see Santa and the, ‘A Christmas Story’ since it started here. I love it. Who doesn’t like that movie?” “I always watch it,” Kara chimed in.
Justin Heise is a fireman/paramedic for the town of Schererville and a paramedic with Prompt Ambulance. “This is pretty cool,” said Heise, who brought his wife Samantha and son Aiden, 3. “The whole seasonal decoration is nice,” he said.
“Especially the trees,” Samantha Heise said.
“It’s good for the kids to come in and see Santa,” Justin Heise said. “Not that I do it (my job) for any recognition but it’s nice to feel appreciated sometimes.”
Special stations were set up for kids to write letters to Santa, create a craft and decorate cookies, and Strack & Van Til Food Stores provided refreshments for the event. Families could get free photos with Santa.
Robert Fabian, who served in an air mobile unit in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, ssid he felt those who serve should be honored.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “This is a lot different than when I came home, although you were always proud to be an American soldier.”