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Newton’s ‘Christmas Elf’ is Spreading Joy to Others, and Finding it Herself

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NEWTON, Iowa  --  Just call Susan Waldman "Santa's Sidekick."

"Well, I'm the Christmas Elf of Park Centre," she said. "I started Christmas wrapping in the mid-90s when I worked here. The first year, I wrapped 162 packages. The second year, I wrapped 243. The third year, I lost track at 500."

She keeps tabs on just how much Christmas cheer she spreads each year; she even made a business out of her love for gift-wrapping, but it all eventually brought her back here, to the Park Centre retirement community in Newton.

"Because when my dad passed away, a few weeks ago, the outpouring of support, and sympathy, and everything from the staff and residents here, helped me make it through the holidays," she said.

Waldman's mom and dad both spent their final days at Park Centre; her mother passed in 2013, and her father followed just a few weeks ago.

"I do this to honor them, because I didn't know what was going to happen in October, when I put my flyers around in everybody's mailbox about when I'll be here," she said. "And there are a lot of people that didn't know if I'd come back this year. And, I had to, I gave my word, and my mom and dad - you give your word, that's your bond."

And giving is what gets Waldman through the hardest moments of the holidays.

"When I have a package, or several, sitting here, and somebody walks in that door, and they go, 'Ahh!' I'm paid - right there," she said.

What else could you call her, besides a "Christmas Elf?"

"It's just so genuine what Susan does for us here," said Margot Voshell, with Park Centre. "She definitely gives us more than a gift in paper."

Especially when wrapping presents is her passion.

"I'd like to be 90 years old, and still be doing what I'm doing - that's the plan," she said.

Trading in the North Pole for Newton, Iowa, Susan Waldman finds comfort in Christmas.

"I think they're smiling down from heaven at this moment," she said. "Proud of me."