The last picture I have from a Santa visit in 2019 at the American Legion Auxiliary Kids’ Christmas Party.

“For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.”

Excerpt From ‘The Dash’, by Linda Ellis

Michael Helm, September 20, 1958-January 4, 2020.

I received a text message from a friend that weekend about his passing. I was sad, it hit me hard. Mike wasn’t necessarily a friend of mine, but part of my life. So how do you say goodbye to someone you didn’t fully know?

I know he was an artist (an accomplished one), a writer, volunteer, teacher, friend, one of “Santa’s helpers”, and the list goes on.

I feel like Mike lived the words of the poem, The Dash, perfectly. Countless lives were touched with his art and teachings. The Salem News is working on an article outlining his years in Salem and surrounding areas in the art community to be published in an upcoming issue.

My experiences with Mike were less centered on art and more centered on Santa.

I first met him in Santa-mode. I don’t know exactly when he started dressing the part, but his face quickly became synonymous with Santa in our home. That’s one great thing about living in a small town, our kids get to know Santa. The long lines of department stores and shopping malls aren’t found here, so more of a personal relationship can be made. His face adorns thousands of photos that have been taken over the years, as Mike dressed the part. He visited schools, Santa workshops at Salem Community Center @ the Armory, Trees and Trains, American Legion, parades, and countless other appearances.

He had the twinkle in his eye and brought humor to the chair as kids climbed up, sometimes scared, sometimes sleeping, happy, sad or excited.

I would usually see him with a fresh haircut and closer shave sometime in January. I heard him joke a few times about having to “re-introduce himself” after the holidays had passed, since his appearance changed so drastically after the bleaching of his hair and beard. As news of his passing spread, I saw several social media posts about him regarding art or his Santa work. I can’t imagine the Christmas of 2020 without him in it.

I am thankful for getting to know him, and even though I considered him just an acquaintance, he brought a magic to Christmas that only someone with a volunteer’s heart could.

Comments in memory of Mike were shared via Wilson Mortuary’s tribute page, and some via social media. Among them:

“Michael's time in Salem was a true blessing to many. I felt it a privilege to be among his friends. He was so very talented as well as had such a wonderful demeaner. Our lives crossed paths during numerous occasions. It is difficult to imagine not seeing him in various places around Salem.”—Jerry Craig

“You brought so much joy to our children over the years. Christmas truly won’t be the same without you.” – Sara Jones

“The Center will be forever be grateful for your majestic display! Always a highlight of the Christmas Season when Santa arrived in his workshop!” – Judy Thompson

“He was a special person who cared about his students. He gave them respect, friendship, and trust. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed. As his friend and co-worker he was willing to listen and give input or just a hug. He listened to his students and helped them make the right choices.” – Janet Kratz

“Salem is going to miss this man. He was a gem treasured by the whole community.” – Molly C. Zettel

“SACBA is deeply saddened by this news. Mr. Helm was a great friend of SACBA and saw many of his friends just a few short days ago while donning his red suit. He put hours of his time and energy into Santa’s Workshop each season. He will be fondly remembered and missed.” – Salem Area Community Betterment Association