Lewis and Bonnie Wirfs carefully pulled their collection of Santa Claus figurines out of storage and put them on display at their West Hall church.
The couple began that ritual just last year after deciding to help bring some Christmas cheer at McEver Road United Methodist Church off McEver Road. Lewis built the wooden case with glass shelves, and the couple placed it, along with the figurines, in a hallway lined with children’s Sunday school rooms.
“The kids can come to Sunday school, and we can tell them about Jesus and Santa Claus,” Bonnie said.
The Wirfs, who live off Browns Bridge Road in West Hall, began their hobby 14 years ago after their daughter-in-law bought some figurines for them in Dillard.
“Friends have sent us some, and we have gathered (others) in our travels,” Lewis said.
“I found some really neat (ones) at The Potter’s House (now Thrift Store & More),” including one that was handcrafted, Bonnie said. “I paid a dollar for it after Christmas.”
Lewis said the figurines represent “the way people visualize Santa Claus in various countries.”
The objects, many featuring fine details and varying in different shapes and sizes, come from places the couple has visited, including England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Greece. The Wirfs have visited the Vatican twice.
They have amassed about 40 of the Santas in their travels over the past 13 years, or since Bonnie’s retirement as a nurse from Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Lanier Park Hospital.
“Being retired from the service, we are privileged to fly on military airplanes when they have space available wherever they go,” Lewis said.
The Wirfs have been married for 63 years, with both retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1960. Wirfs served in World War II — he was a cook aboard a ship. Lewis’ work with Lockheed Martin brought the couple to Georgia in 1967. They moved in 1970 to Gainesville, where Lewis opened a car repair shop. He retired in 1980.
“Lewis and I believe in volunteering and paying back,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie, a California native, is 80, and Lewis, who is from Oregon, is 85.
“We’d like to see more seniors get busy. I think they would be healthier if they were busier,” Bonnie said.
Last week, the couple worked on a Santa display for an upcoming Christmas party that featured gifts being handed out to some 200 children whose parents are incarcerated.
“I think we’ve reached a point where Bonnie and I have involved ourselves in volunteer work,” said Lewis, adding that he also has helped build five houses in Hall County for Habitat for Humanity.
Bonnie has donated her time at Good News at Noon.
“Our heart is in volunteer work,” Lewis said. “We feel that in retirement you should be productive in some way. There is a way for everybody to be useful.”
The Wirfs, who have two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild, have even found a Santa-like spirit in their travels.
Last year, they met a couple in an airport terminal for one of their military flights abroad — this time en route to Germany. The other couple asked the Wirfs if they had traveled before to Germany.
“Lewis says, ‘Yes,’” Bonnie said. “(The husband) said, ‘We’ll, we’ve never been before and would you care if we tag along with you?” The Wirfs ended up becoming tour guides, and now are friends with the couple.
“We’ve made a lot of friends like that,” she said. “We’re very fortunate,” he added.