Santa’s Hide-A-Way Hollow, Middlefield
Bill Dieterle’s 55-acre version of the North Pole in Geauga County offers a day of happiness to children battling illness and their families.
When Bill Dieterle agreed to do his father-in-law a favor in 1981 by donning a Santa suit, it led to what the retired Stouffer’s executive considers his life’s calling.
In 2002, he opened Santa’s Hide-A-Way Hollow — 22 structures nestled in 55 wooded acres in Middlefield designed to look like the North Pole. It provides comfort and fun for terminally ill children and their families.
Dieterle, who serves as executive director of the organization, estimates that more than 140,000 people (counting kids and family members) have visited the hollow. But it’s the memory of that first experience playing Santa at a Chagrin Falls garden center that fuels his sense of purpose.
“A little boy named Joey took off his stocking cap for a picture with me. He was bald with a scar that stretched from the top of his head down to his ear,” Dieterle recalls. “I turned to him and said, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Santa, you know I’m dying. Just make my mommy happy.’
“I looked at his mom, and she was crying. … She wanted one more picture and one more memory. My heart went to my throat, and I knew I had to help children during the final stages of illness.”
Dieterle works with hospitals, nonprofit organizations, Geauga County police and fire departments, and a team of volunteers and donors to bring Santa’s Hide-A-Way Hollow to life. It’s open May through October. Dieterle and his team visit hospitals and private homes throughout Ohio and surrounding states the other months of the year.
When families arrive at Santa’s Hide-A-Way Hollow, they board a trolley and ride to the Christmas village, where they are invited to participate in activities such as horseback riding, fishing and miniature golf as well as enjoy wheelchair-accessible swings and a carousel. After lunch, kids can get their hair cut or receive a powdered tattoo in the barbershop, followed by a private chat with Santa in his workshop. Each child receives a red velvet Care Bear made on-site to take home. And, all of this is done for the smallest of fees.
“I ask them to leave four cookies and a glass of milk for Santa on Christmas Eve,” Dieterle says.
Santa’s Hide-A-Way Hollow is open by appointment only. For more information, visit santashideawayhollow.com.