Calling her yearly volunteer assignment on Indiana Rail Road Company's Santa Train a silent ministry, Dinah Fuller is looking forward to her 22nd holiday season trip on the rails this weekend.
Fuller, who is a fifth grade teacher at Eastern Greene Middle School, says her character remains a secret, but it is one of those commonly associated with the Christmas season.
The characters will be many on this year's Santa Train.
There will be, of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus along with Mr. and Mrs. Snowman, Gingerbread cookie, Frosty, the Christmas Mouse, Grinch, Spiderman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Buzz Lightyear, Snow White, Cruella Deville, Blue (from Blues Clues), Thing 1 and 2, the Cat in the Hat and Elf.
"I have been a character on the Santa Train for 21 of the 23 years it has run. The first year I was not, yet, married into the RR family and did not participate, the other year I needed to study for finals while taking classes at IU," said Fuller. "It may sound odd, but playing my character is like a silent ministry. No one knows who I am and it doesn't matter ... my students know I will be off on Friday for the Santa Train, but I never reveal my character to them."
Fuller said through the years she has gleaned a wealth of experiences while serving as a Santa Train volunteer.
"I have watched hundreds of children grow up. I have held lonely people in my arms as I hug and dance with everyone on line. I have accepted pacifiers from toddlers who are 'big' kids now and are letting go of their crutch. I have also heard many of the elderly say the hug is the first one they have gotten in months," she explained.
One particular man has had an impact on her. Fuller always looks forward to seeing him.
"Year after year, a gentleman in one location steps out from behind a dumpster -- with shoes that flap and toes hanging out -- to dance with me because it is the only time of year that he dances. I receive more hugs in one weekend than many people capture in a lifetime. I am so blessed," she commented. "Interestingly, my jaws hurt from all the smiling and no one even sees my smile ... or my tears. I love it! I look forward to it all year."
The Indiana Rail Road Company employees and their families run the entire event and help make this highly anticipated holiday tradition a success.
It takes about 65 volunteers for each of the three days to put on the event.
Santa and plenty of holiday helpers will be coming to a dozen towns along an approximate 175-mile stretch of Indiana Rail Road Company's line in western Indiana and eastern Illinois during this weekend.
This is the 23rd Annual Santa Train event staged by employees of the Indianapolis-based railroad that serves customers from Indianapolis to Newton, Ill.
The train will make four stops in Greene County on Saturday -- Solsberry (at Yoho's General Store, 8:30 to 10 a.m.); Bloomfield (Seminary St., 11 a.m. to noon); Linton (SE C St., 1:30 to 3 p.m.); and Jasonville (City Park, 6 to 7 p.m.).
Also, on Saturday, the train will greet children in Dugger on Main St. from 4 to 5 p.m.
On Sunday, the tour will include a stops in Sullivan from 6:30 to 7 p.m.; Newton, Ill., Oblong, Ill., and Palestine, Ill.
Friday night, the train has stops in Bargersville, Morgantown and Helmsburg.
Last year, about 600 coats and hundreds of mittens were also passed out to children along the Santa Train stops. ꆱ