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Posted on Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 5:21 p.m.

Santa gets help from U-M sorority sisters to grant some holiday wishes

By Danielle Arndt

Zoe Katz’ childhood Christmases included lights, trees and tinsel, but until her sorority, University of Michigan’s Chi Omega, hosted the Macy’s Santa Claus, she never truly had experienced the rotund man with rosy-red cheeks.

“At 20 years old, I will sit on Santa’s lap for the first time,” Katz said with a chuckle on Tuesday.

She and the majority of her sorority sisters are Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas, she said. In fact, growing up in New York City, Katz experienced the “magic of Christmas” more than her fellow Chi Os.

She and her friends would travel to West Side Manhattan on the night before Thanksgiving to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons be blown up for the annual event. Her family also enjoyed watching the 24-hour marathons of “A Christmas Story” on TNT.

“That’s why we were really excited to participate (in the Santa bus tour) because most of us didn’t have those traditions when we were young. I only observed them,” said Stephanie Horwitz, 20, who also practices Judaism.

The sorority was asked to host local families from the Make-A-Wish Foundation Tuesday when the Macy’s National Santa Bus Tour, benefiting Wish programs, traveled through Ann Arbor.

The Chi Omega house on Washtenaw Avenue was one of three stops Santa made with his elves. The jolly fellow began the day at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and ended with a police escort to Briarwood Mall.

Santa said hearing stories from Wish kids across the country has been heartwarming.

“I also get to see different neighborhoods from street level rather than from about 20 feet up (on roofs), so (the tour) has been rewarding in that way as well,” he said.

Santa is about half-way through his 26-city excursion to promote Macy’s Believe program and Make-A-Wish. He is traveling by bus during the day and sleeping in hotels at night. He said he never checks in under the “Santa Claus” name.

“I got that tip from Mick Jagger,” Claus said. “He’s been on and off the naughty list, but I know good advice when I hear it.”

Make-A-Wish is Chi Omega’s national philanthropy project. This year, the U-M chapter raised $20,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, surpassing its goal of $12,000 and setting a new chapter record for funds raised.

By reaching that total, the women were able to sponsor four wishes instead of two. Horwitz said one wish costs about $6,000 to grant.

Photos of the Wish kids Chi Omega has aided in the past four years are displayed proudly on the sisters’ mantel.

Horwitz said most of the sorority’s philanthropy involves raising money and often the sisters do not have the opportunity to see the end results of their efforts.

“This time of year is so stressful with schoolwork and exams and hurrying to get home for the holidays, that to be part of something bigger than ourselves and bigger than grades is a good reminder of what’s important,” Katz said.

At the Chi Omega house, Santa passed out gifts to the Wish children in attendance. Six-year-old twins Emma and Mikaila Leonard of Ann Arbor received Make-A-Wish and Disney Princess Barbies - appropriate considering Emma was granted a trip to Disney Wishes Villa in Florida to have breakfast with the princesses. Emma suffers from chronic lung disease.

Seven-year-old Jack Schoenherr, who has crohn’s disease and muscular dystrophy, was granted his wish to meet the cast of the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” in San Francisco in 2010. He said it is his favorite show and his favorite episode is the one where the cast tests the capabilities of duct tape.

“We were shocked,” said Jack’s mom, Stephanie Schoenherr, of her son’s unusual wish request. “We were even more shocked when his wish was granted.”

Santa said Make-A-Wish gives entire families a temporary escape from pain and disease and allows them to focus on regrouping and reenergizing as a family unit while on vacation.

To help the foundation, families can take their letters to Claus to any Macy's location. For each letter mailed to Claus using Macy’s in-store “Santa Mail” letter boxes, the store will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation up to $1 million.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Patti Smith

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

Yay, I'm a Chi Omega too! Good job ladies! :)

Peter Jameson

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 1:17 a.m.