Your children might recognize her as Mrs. Claus and you might recognize her as a longtime secretary at the elementary school – now, Cleo Erickson is the latest Senior Volunteer of the Year in Watonwan County.
Cleo was born and raised in St. James and has spent her entire life in the community. She was a secretary at St. James school for 36 years and during that time has been heavily involved in all things St. James.
Her volunteerism began more than 30 years ago when she first suited up as Mrs. Claus. She loves helping and caring for children and is motivated by seeing them smile.
Cleo is also a big supporter of the Relay for Life. She was the original honorary co-chair when they event first took place 16 years ago, and continues to bring a team to the event every year.
"Relay for life, that is a part of me because I've had cancer," said Cleo.
Cleo is involved with other cancer research and treatment fundraisers. She is a supporter of the American Cancer Society, where she sells daffodils and helps place phone calls. She didn't even let a broken leg hold her back when the time came to support ACS this year.
When the ghosts and ghouls are out on October 31, the children of the community (sometimes more than 400) visit Cleo's large halloween display and receive candy. Her house is a must-stop for the children of St. James.
"Working at the school for 36 years, kids mean a lot to me," said Cleo. "I try if my little neighbors are out to have a treat for them, and sometimes will bring kids up to the farm so they can see the animals."
Cleo said her volunteer experiences are different than most volunteers, because she enjoys dealing mainly with children.
She has worked as a back-up daycare provider for her niece, and has helped parents when they are leaving town – offering to watch their children while they're gone. She also makes crafts and sends them to Amish villages in Iowa – and used to do crafts with children at McDonalds.
Cleo especially loves small-town life in Minnesota.
"I love winter, and I love a good snowstorm if I know everybody is ok," said Cleo. "I love small areas."
Perhaps part of the reason Cleo loves rural Minnesota is her fascination with the railroad tracks that work their way through rural Minnesota. Cleo has been the chair of the Railroad Days Committee and is the President of the Union Pacific Employee Club of Southern Minnesota.
"We always ask what we can do to help for Railroad Days and they always give us the little train," said Cleo, who enjoys watching the kids ride on the little red train that tours St. James during Railroad Days.
Page 2 of 2 - Cleo will be leaving in August to take an Amtrak train to Sacramento. She will be representing the 70th UPEC at the national convention, where all of the clubs present what they've done during the last year.
Cleo has also volunteered with the American Bikers for Awareness Training and Education and is a former 4-H member.
When she is not busy volunteering in the community Cleo enjoys playing Bingo and chatting with friends. Cleo also has a sizeable doll collection of more than 200 antique and collectable dolls.
Cleo was honored this last Saturday during the Watonwan County Fair. She will also be sent to the state fair to receive more honors at the Senior Volunteer of the Year for Watonwan County 2013.