Frank Hutton has been the local version of Santa Claus for at least thirteen years. How did it happen? “I really don’t remember. All of a sudden, I was it. I have no idea how or why it happened.
“But, I do remember getting my new Santa suit ten years ago. The Chamber had a Santa suit. But, it was really crumby. Painter and Morse and Sorensen got together and bought me a new one.
“Beth invited me down to a Chamber picnic. She corners me into things, you know. When I showed up at the Park, they gave me the suit.
“The best part of being Santa is the little ones. They keep the happy attitude for the rest of the populace. But then, there are other older ones who help hold it up, too. I have pictures of Ada Thompson (in her 80s) sitting on Santa’s lap. And, Christy Bumber, too.”
Over the years, Hutton has played Santa all over town as well as in Two Dot and Shawmut, Duncan Colony and Geraldine. This year, he will get his suit out and beard combed to hand out candy and sit for photos with the little ones at the Kiwanis Chili Feed on December 4. He will be at Midtown Market for more of the same on December 8. Santa will appear at Shawmut on the last day of school 2007. He may well be seen at other venues around town over the holiday season. Keep an eye out for him.
Santa Hutton admits, “This may be my last year as Santa.” Really? “Yeah. There’s a whole generation that has grown up with this Santa and they know who I am.”
The writer caught up with Hutton at the Midtown Market on a Friday afternoon. Even while he was preparing his regular food demo - Pineapple Sweet Potatoes, Frank Hutton was also getting ready for another birthday celebration - that of the United States Marine Corps on the next day. For historians, the Marine Corps was born at Tun’s Tavern in Philadelphia on November 10, 1775. Although he hasn’t been around quite that long, Hutton has celebrated being a Marine for many, many years. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” It’s a motto almost as ancient and pointed as Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).
“I’ve always celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday. These days, we put up the Marine Corps Flag at Harry’s (Stockman Bar) and have a party.”
Hutton has ALWAYS worked and has been employed by Beth Keating at Midtown Market for quite a few years. He has many memories of his present “tour of duty.” He’s been doing food demos since long before the store moved up to the Highway 12 location. “One of the worst things we tried down there was deep fried Twinkies. The old folks sucked them up. But, it took days to get rid of the deep fried odor. We did deep fried Oreos once at this location, but we did the cooking outside.”
Frank does his demos most every Friday from 3:00 to 5:00. How did he get elected? Brandi Murray interjects, “He’s a people person.” But, Hutton says, “It’s because I’m kitchen help. I’ve been doing this sort of work for years.”
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1972 at Norfolk, Virginia, Hutton worked for a variety of restaurants - from Pizza King to Pizza Hut to the Zero Sub Shop and later John Paris’s Greek restaurant in nearby Virginia Beach.
Santa - or Sergeant - or Kitchen Helper Hutton was raised in Schenectady, New York (near Albany). “The day I turned 18, I joined the Marines.”
Why the Marines? “I was looking for the Air Force recruiter below the Post Office in Schenectady. But, he wasn’t around. He must have made his quota for the month. The Marine Corps recruiter sees me, comes up to me in his dress blue uniform with all the ribbons and says, ‘Do you like these blues?’ and that was it.”
Hutton did twenty years with the Marines. “Every Marine is first a rifleman.” But, Frank also trained and worked in aviation electronics, had good duty for most of his career, and retired from a general’s head-quarters at Norfolk Naval Base. “I did get out once before retirement. I was discharged from Floyd Bennett Field, went home to Schenectady and was back in the Marines all in 24 hours.”
After spending 14 post-retirement years in Virginia Beach, Hutton came out to Montana in ‘85 to visit the Stinsons who owned the Cornerstone. Within weeks he gave up the East Coast and moved to Harlowton. “I was going to retire, but I kind of worked for them.” And a few others in the area. Always on duty, Hutton tended bar at a number of establishments in Harlowton and Two Dot. He even extracted honey at the Apiary.
What kind of position does he have at Midtown? “Oh, I’m low man on the totem pole.”
Tom Keating suggests otherwise, “He’s a permanent fixture. He’ll be here forever.”
Actually, Frank is kind of a special events coordinator and works as many hours as needed. “Enough to keep body and soul together.”
As long as those hours don’t interfere with his volunteer work. Like being the City Representative on the Upper Musselshell Conservation District Board (for the last three years). And Board Member of the Central Montana Rural Water Authority which has been working for some years to get $60 million to bring fresh water from the Madison Aquifer to the Musselshell Valley. Money not appropriated, yet.
Hutton helps every summer with the City Swimming Pool and is always looking for extra monies to keep it running.
“I’m not on the Weed Board, but I do go to Helena every year to ask for money for local weed control.”
Frank Hutton has been on the Harlowton City Council for 14 years. He took Bill Hiner’s place. “I ran three times and won. But, there was no competition. I ran for mayor and lost handily. When I ran for mayor, I hadn’t filed to run for council and was told that I lost my seat.
“But, I got seven write-ins. So, I went to the Clerk and Recorder and paid my application fee - $15. Since ‘procedural errors were made’ during the election, I was allowed to keep my seat.”
After that, Frank became an election judge. As a friend says, “It’s sometimes more important who counts the vote than who gets the vote.”
How is life as a councilman? Hutton snickers and says, “Well, we’re adapting to the changing laws and regulations with some difficulty.”
Hutton has two years left in his council term. “I will try to serve the citizens of the community whatever ward they are in.”
And, how is life at Midtown Market? “Beth Keating is at the top of the list of any bosses I have ever worked for. She is open to suggestions all around. And, it just gets better.”
You can find Frank Hutton on demo duty at Midtown on Fridays and on his irregular shifts. Citizen Hutton is visible at the Town Council, the City Pool, Water and Conservation meetings, and a host of other venues. Santa Hutton can be seen in red suit and beard at a variety of locations in the next month playing his annual role. Most surely you can always catch Sergeant Hutton celebrating the Marine Corps every November 10 and on other occasions.