Yes Villagers, there is a Santa Claus and he exists right here amongst us

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to The Sun newspaper in New York City that led to a famous editorial from editor Francis Pharcellus Church.

A little girl once wrote to a newspaper editor to ask him a simple question.

Her letter was sent to The Sun in New York City – a prominent publication in its day that carried a lot of weight with readers. In her missive, the 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked a simple but direct question – does Santa Claus really exist?

Most if not all of you probably know this heartwarming story and are well aware of how editor Francis Pharcellus Church responded to young O’Hanlon’s letter. His editorial is one of the most famous ever written and is the most reprinted in the English language.

Sumter County sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Sirolli, with Wildwood Elementary School student Ralph Mueller and his mother, Carrie
Thanks to members of Rotary Club of The Villages – Evening, Santa Claus paid a special visit to kindergarteners at Harbour View Elementary School in Summerfield recently.

It’s been 121 years since Church took pen to paper to answer O’Hanlon’s question. But to this day, we still get goosebumps when we read it, especially these words: “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy… Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

We know that Church was talking about the true meaning of Santa Claus. And were he alive today, we have no doubt he write a similar piece about that same wonderful spirit that’s alive and well in The Villages and the surrounding communities.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods, left, joins with some of his deputies participating in a recent Shop With a Cop event at Target in Ocala.
Leesburg Police School Resource Officer Travonte Kitchen (Beverly Shores Elementary School) and senior Destiny Roberts
Mustang Club members Penny and Carl Hoagland stand in front of their 2008 Mustang. To add to the Christmas spirit, Carl has dressed as Santa for the past three years.

Yes, dear readers, Santa Claus is, indeed, alive and well here. He’s there when someone is down on their luck. He’s there to pick up a sick neighbor or offer comfort and help when someone loses a loved one. And he never hesitates to come out in full force to make sure that children across the local area have a wonderful Christmas – regardless of what it costs or how much work it takes.

We think that’s pretty special. And in case you aren’t aware of the many great ways Santa has helped out this year, we’ll offer just a few examples:

Dave Lawrence, of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club, holds one of the children who attended a recent bicycle giveaway event in Wildwood.
Villager Judy Ney dancing with Sumter County Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Siemer at a charity event.

We’d also like to offer a huge word of thanks to Villagers for stepping up to help a couple of kids who are facing some tough health issues. These two young people are near and dear to us, so it is with a warm heart that we share the latest on them.

In November we told you about a Belleview teenager, Cole Tumey, who is in desperate need of a kidney. After the story was published, Cole’s mom, Leona Yawn, received some interest from area residents seeking to find out if they would be a match.

Team Cole involves family and a wide network of friends who are doing everything they can to help find a kidney donor for 17-year-old Cole Tumey, who lives in Belleview and is a senior at Village View Christian Academy.

Our fingers are crossed and we pray every day that the always-smiling honor student who attends Village View Christian Academy will get the kidney he needs very soon and be able to move forward with his life in good health.

To learn more about the effort to help Cole, click HERE. To donate to his GoFundMe account, click HERE.

Wildwood Elementary School student Abby Lacayo shows a sample of some of the cards, letters and well-wishes she’s received from area residents and classmates.

There’s also Wildwood Elementary School student Abigail “Abby” Lacayo. If you want to believe in Christmas miracles, read our past stories about this amazing 9-year-old honor student who has faced more adversity with a smile on her beautiful face than most of us can comprehend.

Abby suffered from Hereditary Chronic Pancreatitis and Gastro Paresis and had been in pain for a long time when she underwent a complicated surgery recently at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

Abby Lacayo has captured the hearts of Villagers and other tri-county residents alike as they’ve followed her story this past year. Recently, surgeons at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis removed her pancreas, spleen and gallbladder, while also transplanting islet cells into her liver.
Abby Lacayo shows off her new iPad alongside Mary Anne and Jim Wilson of the Amigos Sports Club. The group came together and raised $1,600 to purchase the iPad and several other items for Abby and her family.

On Dec. 12, a team of highly specialized surgeons removed Abby’s pancreas, spleen and gallbladder, while also transplanting islet cells into her liver. She faces a long road to complete recovery. But if things go right over the weekend, she’ll spend Christmas Day with Mom Gina and Dad Denis in a Ronald McDonald House where the family received free lodging for the six to 12 weeks Abby will need to recover.

We’re quite happy to tell you that area residents certainly haven’t forgotten Abby. In fact, she’s received so many Christmas cards, letters and packages that the hospital staff refers to her as “the little celebrity.”

Before Abby left for Minnesota, she received some much-needed assistance from the very generous members of the Amigo Sports Club. Thanks to the $1,600 the club raised through its Adopt-A-Family program, the youngster headed north with several new items, including an iPad, two years of AppleCare warranty; a case and screen protector; ear buds; a power adapter, station and cord; a $200 iTunes gift certificate to purchase books; a $200 gasoline gift certificate for the four-day car trip; a $200 Amazon gift certificate for miscellaneous expenses; and $100 in McDonald’s gift certificates for food along the way.

Villager Faye Scher poses with Abby Lacayo recently. Scher is a volunteer at Abby’s school, Wildwood Elementary, and a member of the charity-oriented Gilchrist West Social Club. Scher also started a GoFundMe account to help offset expenses for Abby’s family.

As many of you know, there’s one person who has been in Abby’s court for a quite a long time. And trust us when we tell you that she has done more than any of us know to help the amazing young girl who hopes to become a doctor someday.

Villager Faye Scher, a volunteer at Abby’s school, has done everything from creating a GoFundMe account (click HERE to donate) to providing winter coats for the frigid Minnesota weather to delivering gift baskets to spending quality time with Abby and Gina while showing them what the love of a true friend is all about. And she’s encouraging everyone to send cards to Abby Lacayo c/o Ronald McDonald House, 621 Oak Street SE, Room No. 311, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

In our book, Faye ( is a pretty special person. And when we think about the true meaning of Christmas and Santa Claus, the smiling face of the generous Village of Gilchrist resident quickly comes to mind.

Abby Lacayo and her mother, Gina, were busy cooking a big meal for their entire family on Thanksgiving.
At left: Nine-year-old Abigail ‘Abby’ Lacayo revealed her plans to become a doctor recently during career day at Wildwood Elementary School. Center, top and bottom: Abby is no stranger to doctor visits. Center: Abby reads to her dog, Zoey. Right: Abby dressed up as the ‘Pancreatitis Superhero” for Halloween.

As you enjoy opening packages and spending time with family and friends on Christmas morning, please take a moment and remember everyone we mentioned above. Please offer a big “thank you” to anyone else you know who has helped others this holiday season. And please know that even though we couldn’t mention everybody in the local area who has helped somebody this holiday season, their efforts truly are appreciated as well.

So as we all await a visit from Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, we at would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

From left: Sumter County Sheriff’s Investigators Crystal Stuller and Michelle Balmer.
Smiling faces were abundant Thursday night as the Leesburg Police Department held its annual gift and bike giveaway event.
Melissa Swope, right, is all smiles after her 11-year-old son, Matthew, bought her earrings Saturday during the Sumter County sheriff’s annual Kids, Cops and Christmas shopping event at Wal-Mart on County Road 466 in The Villages. Matthew and his 8-year-old brother, Mason, shopped with Dep. Holly Eckstein.