Library Director: Hartland Man Who Played 'Old World Santa' Will be Missed
The late Lari Korpela brought traditional garb, staff and kindness to the annual event.
Tuesday marks Cromaine District Library's annual visit from Santa Claus, but this year many people associated with the event have been remembering the late Lari Korpela — who for the past eight years brought his real whiskers and Finnish heritage to the role.
Known as "Old World Santa," kind-hearted Korpela was popular for his shepherd-like staff and northern European Santa Claus clothing that was a darker red and included a hat that featured a bell at the tip, said Library Director Ceci Marlow. He also only was Santa for the library.
"He wasn't the typical Santa," Marlow said. "It was his staff that most impressed me."
Korpela dedication to the job also was inspiring. He still played the role of Santa last year even though he needed an oxygen tank for health reasons, and he had told library officials he turned a corner in participating in cardiac rehab. They expected him back this year.
"It was pretty sudden," Marlow said.
Library officials said Korpela died recently, although they weren't sure of an exact date, adding that they were told by family — who now do not live in the area — that a memorial is planned in the future.
No additional funeral information was immediately available.
Korpela was preceded in death by his wife Mary, a longtime secretary for Walled Lake Western public schools who died in 2005, according to a copy of her obituary. The couple had two sons and lived in Commerce before moving to Hartland in the late 1990s.
Marlow said one library patron remembered Korpela on the library's Facebook page by posting a photo. But she added that no formal tribute has been planned for Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. event — which is at capacity with 75 sign ups and a waiting list — because staff wanted parents to decide themselves on whether they wanted to address having a new Santa or Korpela's death.
Teresa Sutter Loman posted an image of Korpela and a young boy from from 2004. (See photo with this article).
"(This) is one of my favorite pictures," Loman wrote. "Thank you Cromaine Library for this incredibly special memory."