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Pick a Nick

Clara Wendt recalls that her late husband, Don Wendt, long had a soft spot for the persona of Saint Nick.

"Ever since he was a kid he was fascinated by Santa Claus," Clara Wendt recalls. "We'd always have one out at Christmas."

The other 500-plus Santas stayed in storage.

Don Wendt's enormous collection of Santa Claus dolls and other Christmas decor is now seeing the light of day for the first time in its nearly 50-year lifespan, and it won't be coming back to the family's Jacksonville home.

The collection, which sports an array of Santas dating back nearly a century, is being sold piece by piece beginning Saturday at Wall Auctioneers, 2338 South Pacific Highway, Medford.

The facility will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays while supplies last.

Auctioneer Steve Wall, a Jacksonville resident, has been selling off Wendt's estate but waited until now to unveil the collection he's dubbed "Santa Mania."

"We haven't had a chance to catalog it but there has to be more than 500 Santas in his collection," Wall says.

They range from garden-variety Santas with general appeal to rare ones for which serious yuletide collectors already have paid more than $400.

Some of the most valued are part of Wendt's collection from Harold Gale, a Kansas City man who hand-built Santas in the 1940s and '50s, largely for "Christmas Story"-like department store displays. Also in the set are 1920s-era, cloth-faced Santas with hand-painted features and cotton beards.

There are Harry and David Santas, sans candy, from the 1950s, somewhat risque Harold's Club calendar "Sandy Claus" from the '60s and Santa sets that Wendt bought en masse — some of which were still in their shipping boxes when Wall hauled them out of Wendt's downtown Jacksonville storage building.

"Lots of these have never seen the light of day," Wall says.

Some of the non-Santa items among the Christmas memorabilia include 1920s electric Christmas lights in their original boxes and ornaments dating to the 1890s.

A Jacksonville native, Wendt was a former Medford school teacher and editor/publisher of the Jacksonville Nugget newspaper who was active in several civic organizations. He was a former city councilman in his hometown, helped found the Jacksonville Boosters Club and helped contour the hill in preparation for the building of Britt Gardens.

He died Jan. 24, 2013, after a 17-month battle with a neuromuscular disorder, according to his February 2013 obituary.

Clara Wendt says Don began collecting Santas about 50 years ago and never stopped.

"It was just one of those side interests," she says. "He was always interested in something different."

She says she never realized how many Santas her husband had collected over the decades, but she isn't surprised it's more than 500.

"When you put two pack rats together for 60 years, I can't explain it," says Clara Wendt, whose weaknesses include book hoarding. "I just can't explain it."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Auctioneer Steve Wall has dubbed the collection of Santas belonging to the late Don Wendt, 'Santa Mania.' Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
About 500 Santas will be sold weekends at Wall Auctioneers in Medford while supplies last. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch