SPOFFORD — Joyce Schlichting has always loved Christmas.

“My folks always made it such a special event,” Schlichting, 75, said of her late parents, Helen and Eugene Stanclift of Hinsdale. “I have a warm feeling about that.”

When she started a family of her own and moved to Spofford with her husband, John, and their two sons, they continued to make the holidays a special time of year.

“John and I raised our family with that feeling of excitement for Christmas — family gatherings, that type of thing,” she said, adding that her family traditionally gathered at her parents’ house for the holiday with her brother, three sisters and their families. (Schlichting’s mother had more than a dozen siblings, she said, so some of these family parties could grow quite large.)

John Schlichting died of cancer about seven years ago, which Joyce said has “been kind of difficult to manage.” But Christmas has kept a special place in her heart, in part because six years ago, she began donning a festive red outfit and portraying Mrs. Claus at a pair of local celebrations.

And Schlichting has no plans to stop delighting kids as Santa’s spouse at the Chesterfield Lions Club’s Breakfast with Santa and Keene’s annual Central Square Christmas tree lighting.

Why?

“Because it’s fun, because I enjoy it,” Schlichting said. “I love people, I love to sing, I love to read [to children].”

She first became Mrs. Claus for the Lions Club with some encouragement from her sister-in-law Bonnie Miner, a fellow club member. (Her late husband was a longtime member and former club president, too.)

“I suggested I could do that, and they were all over it,” Schlichting said. “I just thought it would be fun. We’d ride the fire truck from Chesterfield to the town hall, where they’d have breakfast with Santa. It’s fun. It’s connecting with people.”

At both the Chesterfield and Keene events, Schlichting appears alongside David Callender of Surry, a well-known Jolly Old St. Nicholas in the Monadnock Region.

“She’s the only Mrs. Claus I work with,” Callender said. “... She’s very nice; she’s friendly with the children.”

For the little ones who are shy or scared to approach Santa and Mrs. Claus, Schlichting does a good job of making them feel comfortable, Callender added.

Santa plays a big part in that, too, Schlichting said.

“He’s got a funny character to him,” she said of Callender. “He really makes the kids laugh. I get a hoot out of him when I’m sitting there with him.”

Schlichting had been portraying Mrs. Claus for three years in Chesterfield when she decided to add the Keene event. The tree-lighting is hosted by the Kiwanis Club, to which she also belongs.

“It was kind of my idea, ‘Hey, I could do this for Keene, also, if they’ll let me’,” she said. “So that’s how I was adopted into that.”

Regardless of the venue, Schlichting always reads the same story when she gets into her Mrs. Claus garb: the beloved children’s classic, “The Night Before Christmas.”

“I just love reading that story,” she said. “... It’s fun. I just enjoy the children. I enjoy animating the story that I read to them.”

Schlichting has plenty of practice reading aloud to young kids. That’s been a treasured activity for her and her five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. (The Berenstain Bears books are a family favorite, she said.)

Schlichting also loves to sing. She grew up participating in local music groups as a student at Hinsdale High School, and she’s still a member of the choir at Grace Community Evangelical Free Church in Chesterfield.

A friend from her church choir made the Mrs. Claus outfit that Schlichting wears for her appearances. And next year, she said, she hopes to bring some music to the Keene tree-lighting, perhaps leading the crowd in Christmas carols before Santa arrives on his Keene Fire Department engine.

“I have that vision for next year, if I have time to do that, or if they allow me to do that,” Schlichting said. “So, I’m enjoying that.”

Long before becoming Mrs. Claus, she was simply Mrs. Schlichting — a wife and mother who spent her career working as a secretary for local companies, including Markem Corp. (now Markem-Imaje in Keene) and the former Spofford Hall rehabilitation center.

She met her husband, a Spofford native and longtime Electrolux salesman, while spending summer days at Spofford Lake.

“We were introduced by a friend of his from Spofford,” she said. “I spent a lot of time up at Spofford Lake back in those days. They had boating and all kinds of activities.”

Schlichting graduated from high school, and started both her career and her family, she said. Nowadays her life is fairly quiet, she said, but she still spends as much time as possible with her family. Her son David lives in Delaware with his wife, Jera, and their family, but her other son Roy and his wife, Kathy, live Chesterfield.

“That’s my small world right now, and I enjoy it,” she said. “It’s different because my husband’s not around anymore. He was very outgoing. He was involved in a lot of things.”

The Lions and Kiwanis clubs keep her pretty busy, Schlichting added, and her golden doodle named Sadie keeps her company in her Spofford home.

“I adopted her five years ago, and she is so sweet,” Schlichting said. “She is so in-tune to me, we’re just like partners right now.”

And while holidays are certainly tinged with sadness without her husband, Schlichting said her role as Mrs. Claus still fills her with a festive spirit, and the warm memories of Christmases past sustain her moving forward with her family.

“Mom always made sure we were always together on holidays, at the home,” she said. “So, it was a big deal. And my children, my kids now, even today, talk about that, how they appreciate Christmas and remember our family get-togethers.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.