For one area couple, serving their community is all about making the town as special as it should be.
Bunny and Gary McCloud, have made a name for themselves in Wamego through their community service, including focusing efforts to benefit veterans and their portrayal of a famous Christmas couple for local children.
The McClouds’ most recent community achievement was the creation and dedication of a Wamego Area Veterans Memorial, which was officially dedicated during a Nov. 20 ceremony in Wamego City Park.
“If you enjoy your community like we do, you have to do it just to keep it going,” Bunny said. “If everybody says, ‘Somebody else will do it,’ then it never gets done.”
The idea for the new memorial came when the McClouds joined the American Legion Riders,which is a group that travels for support for military funerals. While participating, the McClouds realized many places they visited had beautiful war memorials, but Wamego’s was almost 100 years old. The new memorial includes a black granite display with the memorial dedication and a bronze sculpture of a WWII soldier created by Charlie and Carson Norton. The McClouds spent years working on the project, focusing mostly on fundraising. The couple collected $285,000 for the project.
“It’s all from right here in Wamego,” Gary said. “Everybody wanted to help.” The McClouds were interested in serving the American Legion and helping veterans because they have a long history of military service in their own family.
Gary also served three tours in Vietnam and has served as the American Legion commander for several years. While they have always been focused on serving the community, the McClouds began the veterans memorial project in the spring of 2013 after they retired from their day jobs. Gary worked as a project manager, among other positions, for Schilling Construction and Bunny worked for the Wamego Telephone Company.
“The memorial has taken a lot of time over the last few years,” Gary said. Betsy Riblett, Wamego, helped build the memorial with the McClouds. She said the McClouds’ dedication to the project is a great benefit to the community.
“They are extremely community minded,” she said. “Their heart is in Wamego and they make it all happen.” The McClouds aren’t only known in town for their work in the military and veteran community, but for their holiday spirit as well. The couple spent more than four decades portraying Santa and Mrs. Claus for the children of the community.
The McClouds began their portrayal of the Clauses when they lived in McFarland, a town in Wabaunsee County, and continued the tradition for another 32 years after moving to Wamego.
“Once we came here they asked different people to play Santa, so Gary started as the town Santa,” Bunny said. “We really expanded more when he started growing his beard. Every July he’d start growing the beard and we started getting requests from other communities and other American Legions.” The operation expanded to serving Wamego, the local VA Hospital and Fort Riley through the Wounded Warrior project. While serving Fort Riley, Bunny said she realized kids in the area have become so comfortable with them because of all the years they’ve spent portraying the couple.
“A little girl came up and sat on his lap and then came over to me and said she can’t find her mommy or daddy,” Bunny said. “Well she said she was comfortable with the two of us… She was so comfortable with us because she was from Wamego and she had seen us as her Santa and Mrs. Claus every year.”
“We’re the only Santa and Mrs. Claus she had ever seen,” Gary said.
Riblett said the McClouds’ portrayal of the holiday couple was important for the Wamego and military communities.
“The children absolutely loved visiting with them, and they just have such a way with kids,” she said. “It was so nice to see the sparkle in Gary’s eyes every time he talked with a child, and Bunny was right beside him. It takes such a special couple to do that type of thing.”
Bunny said part of the reason the couple was so good at serving as Santa and Mrs. Claus is because of Gary’s ability to answer any question in character.
“We had a little boy who asked ‘Where’s your sleigh?’” she said. “His normal answer for that is ‘Well I parked it outside of town and left my reindeer in a field, and the farmer let me borrow his truck to come to town.’ “He had answer for everything,” she added.
There were several touching moments before the couple retired from the holiday tradition after the 2014 season.
“There was one little girl who wanted her daddy back from Afghanistan,” Gary said.
“She said, ‘That’s all I want, I don’t want anything else,’” Bunny said. “That was a tough one.”
Part of the reason the McClouds retired from portraying the couple was the amount of time it was taking to create the memorial, Gary said. But the memorial project is finished and now the McClouds said they need to begin working on a few projects at home, including more focus on their horses.
“We need to get caught up a little here at home,” Bunny said. “We fixed the fence a few times, and if we don’t fix it the horses are going to town looking for us.”