December 8, 2013; Times of Northwest Indiana

Those who took heart in the Good Neighbor Christmas Cheer Fund of Hammond, Indiana, may find their holiday a touch more somber this season, as one of their most colorful and generous donors, the mysterious “Grandpa Claus,” passed away earlier this year.

In his obituary of February 27th, James P. Vacendak, who died at the age of 72, was identified as the “Grandpa Claus” who would deliver four-figure sums pseudonymously to the Hammond National Insurance Company building as donations to the Cheer Fund. (His 2011 check was for $5000, as was his 2012 gift.) Although he kept his identity secret for years, he was known to have cashier’s checks delivered with no small fanfare: one year, handed over by a firefighter on a fire engine; another, delivered by a clown in costume.

This is the 81st year of the Cheer Fund, which “was started in the 1930s when a Hammond contractor gave $500 to the police chief to distribute to residents during the holidays.”The group works with The Salvation Army Hammond/Munster Corps to distribute food vouchers to families that can be used at grocery stores throughout Northwest Indiana.

John Gescheidler, who manages the fund with his son and whose family has been involved with it for generations, said of Vacendak, “He’ll be truly missed, and he was greatly appreciated. To have a benefactor like that fall out of the program leaves very big shoes to fill.”

The fund has raised $4,156.31 so far of the $25,000 that organizers hope to raise this year. If you’d like to donate to the Cheer Fund, no false name and costumed emissary are required. There’s a PayPal link at the very bottom of the Hammond Insurance webpage. In a season without a Grandpa Claus, your gift would be just that much more valuable.—Jason Schneiderman