Once home to Edsel and Eleanor Ford and their four children, Ford House opened to the public in 1978 and has since welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors. Designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn, the home was fashioned to resemble Cotswold-style cottages in England.
Many programs and events take place at this grand old home, especially during the holidays. One such event that both children and adults look forward to each year is Cookies with Santa. Of course, since Santa can't be everywhere and is much too busy preparing for Christmas, he has some helpers who step in to assist.
Joe Kosiara of St. Clair Shores is one of those helpers. "Christmas was a big deal in my family, and my grandparents always ensured Santa Claus was there."
He has welcomed children onto his lap to hear their most desired Christmas wishes for almost 30 years. "I'm often asked for basics like Barbies and Legos, but you would be surprised at how many kids ask for something for one of their siblings or good health for their grandma. Those things are really special."
Joe also stands in for Santa in the Grosse Pointe Parade and in front of various shops along Kercheval Avenue. During many years playing Santa, he worked as a gardener at Ford House until he retired. When parents and kids would come in to meet Santa, they didn't know that Joe also worked there, so he knew about some of them from chatting with them while they were visiting the grounds.
"I would say, 'Oh, you caught a big fish with Grandpa this summer,' and they would look at me and wonder how I knew that! That's been the most fun - turning a 10 or an 11-year-old nonbeliever into a believer by knowing some of those very special details in their lives."
He also grew up in St. Clair Shores and is on the Beautification Commission. "I'm very involved and have gotten to know many people. When they come in and don't know it's me playing Santa, I can have an absolute riot."
Families return every year and hope to see the same "Santa" as the previous year. "Last year, we had a family come to take a picture with Santa, and they had another baby on the way," says Tommy Karr, director of communications and engagement at Ford House. "If they return this year, it'll be the fourth generation of their family to have experienced Joe as Santa."
Joe, he says, really embodies the spirit of Santa Claus. "Joe is very much that person, that entity here at Ford House, who is giving back to the community."
The Cookies with Santa event has changed over the years, but some things have stayed the same. "There's always a cookie or a candy to give out," says Joe.
He says children always leave with some token of the Ford House so they can remember their experience. "Sitting there with those little kids and seeing the sparkle in their eyes and how excited they are is a good feeling. It's wonderful to provide that experience for other kids because I remember how great it was when I was a child."
Having this event at Ford House also adds to the joy. "I believe this is what Mrs. Ford intended when she left the house to the trust with the intent that it become a space for the community," says Tommy. "There's something magical about the property and the grounds, for the staff and the community who cares deeply about this place. It's a real anchor to the East Side of Detroit, which makes it a central location to celebrate the holidays with your family with Santa and the glittery walk at night."
He says visitors can also enjoy Mrs. Ford's understated elegance in the holiday decor inside the house. "It's an epicenter where people from all walks of life can come in and be comfortable and engage. If you imagine Santa's house up in the North Pole, it would be close to what you see here. "
Adds Joe, "It's not just the architecture, not just the stone. It's the feeling of family in the buildings and the surroundings. The landscape architect was Jens Jensen, who believed trees should surround a house like arms around each other."
The aesthetics always impress adults, but children find it even more fascinating. "It's really awe-striking for them," says Tommy. "We have the large meadow where Santa can land with his sleigh and reindeer."
"That's a fun part for me, too, because I tell the kids how the gardeners take care of the reindeer for me and how they like to run around through the woods here," says Joe.
Cookies with Santa, part of Ford House's Home for the Holidays, will kick off December 2. Dates for the event can be found on the Ford House website. Families are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance as this experience routinely sells out. Breakfast with Santa is another special event on December 3 and 17, with two entry times at 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Again, purchase tickets early.
"I'm fortunate to have been able to play Santa all these years," says Joe. "I hope to continue doing it for many more years to come. It's always been a very positive experience. I have grandchildren and children of my own, and I enjoy what I do."
To buy tickets to these events and for more information about Ford House, go to FordHouse.org/Holidays.
"Christmas was a big deal in my family, and my grandparents always ensured Santa Claus was there."