ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE: Ken Savage has been dressing up as Santa Claus every Christmas Eve for 22 years to deliver lollies to children in Rosewood and surrounding communities.
ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE: Ken Savage has been dressing up as Santa Claus every Christmas Eve for 22 years to deliver lollies to children in Rosewood and surrounding communities. David Nielsen

Santa Ken and firies join forces to cheer up kids

EVERY Christmas Eve for 22 years Ken Savage has braved the December heat and donned his Santa suit bringing smiles to the faces of hundreds of local kids.

Dressed head-to-toe as the jolly man in red, Ken clambers into the fire truck and with the Rosewood Auxiliary Fire Brigade team drives around handing out lollies to children in Rosewood and Thagoona.

Teaming with tinsel, sirens blaring and lights flashing, children flock to the streets when they hear the truck coming.

It all started more than two decades ago when Rosewood Auxiliary Fire Brigade Lieutenant Pat Cole rang Ken Savage with a strange request.

"He said to me 'put on your Santa suit, I've got some lollies and the fire truck, let's go hand them out',” Ken said.

"It's all about bringing some Christmas joy to the kids.”

Ken estimated they reached about 80 or 90 children that first year, after running out of lollies at the mid-way point and having to "scrounge” around for more.

But as the population of Rosewood and surrounding communities has grown, this year will be the team's biggest year yet, with 875 lolly bags packed and at the ready.

It takes Ken and his wife Jan four days, to pack 200 bags a day with balloons, lollies and chips.

But Ken maintains the hours spent packing bags and sweltering in his Santa suit are all worth it.

"There is an entire generation in Rosewood who don't know a Christmas Eve without Santa handing out lollies on the fire truck,” Ken said.

"It warms my heart to see the kids I gave lollies to 20 years ago, have grown up and now bring their own children out to meet us.”

The round-trip can take upwards of six hours to complete, especially when the team has emergencies to contend with.

"One year the team were called out three times, and each time they had to drop me off, go out to the emergency, come back to get me and keep going,” Ken said.

The initiative is funded through Drakes Supermarkets in Rosewood as each time a shopper scans the appropriate tag at the checkout a percentage goes towards the purchase of lollies.

To get yourself a tag, just ask Santa Claus as he makes his way around town on Christmas Eve.

Santa's route

Fire truck one will start at Normanton Close, Rosewood at 3pm on Christmas Eve, and make its way down Berlin Street, through town, and up to Rosewood Gardens before finishing back at Normanton Close to hand out lollipops to families admiring the award-winning Christmas lights display

Fire truck two will kick off at the same time, but start from Blakes Road in Rosewood making their way through Thagoona.

Familiar face loves community

BETWEEN his work with the Rosewood Retired Services League sub branch and countless community activities, former Rosewood business owner Ken Savage is a familiar face about town.

Ken is known for his community involvement and more famously as Santa Claus on the Christmas Eve fire truck lolly drop. But who is the man under the mass of white beard and wig?

Born in Ipswich in 1950, Ken had two career goals growing up - to join the air force and work as a cook.

"I started my apprenticeship as a cook in 1965 and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1969,” he said.

"When I first started at Amberley I was feeding up to 1200 people a day.”

When thinking about what motivated him to combine his culinary pursuits with the Australian defence force Ken reckons he drew on his family for inspiration.

"My cousin was a pilot and my mum was a fantastic home cook. I was always helping her out in the kitchen so I think I combined my admiration for those two,” he said.

He and his wife Jan married in 1970, and had one child.

"We tried it once and didn't like it,” Ken joked.

Today the pair have two grandchildren, though Ken is quick to point out he did have three.

He and Jan's eldest grandson Steven died in a car accident in 2013.

Twenty years feeding the air force took Ken and his wife Jan around Australia and the world.

In 1979, Ken was posted to Malaysia for two years, an experience he said, "opened his eyes to how the other half live”.

They returned to Australia and were posted to Canberra in 1981, before returning to Amberley for six years, followed by a stint in Toowoomba and finally Canberra where he retired from the air force in 1989.

After retiring, Ken and Jan returned to Rosewood to run their two businesses, John's Cafe and Rosewood Equip Hire.

Today Ken is also president of the Rosewood RSL sub branch and of the Ipswich Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-Servicemen and Women.

Community involvement is paramount to Ken, who said it was volunteers that kept the cogs in small towns like Rosewood turning.

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