Jefferson Award Winner: Jan McKnight

Jefferson Awards

Highlighting Local Volunteers

The Jefferson Awards engages the Partners in our communities to highlight local volunteers. The goal is to spotlight the great work they do and to inspire our community to put their service ideas into action.

From the 2019-2020 Honorees, a local panel of judges select one winner that will travel to the National Gala in Washington, DC. to represent Northeast Kansas.  From the nationwide winners, one will be selected for a national Jefferson Award.

VALLEY FALLS, Kan. (KSNT) – Jan McKnight might call Valley Falls, Kansas home, but after you spend a few minutes talking to her you’ll think she’s straight out of the North Pole.

For 27 years Jan has played the role of a modern-day Mrs. Claus, taking on Santa’s job of making sure no child in her community goes without a Christmas present.

“Really growing up Christmas at my house was magical, I mean it really was,” McKnight said. “And I just thought in a world that we live in now, I just want kids to feel special just for one day.”

Like a true Mrs. Claus, she recruited some elves (local friends and family in the Valley Falls area.)

Every year right before Christmas they go on a big shopping spree with money donated by local people in the area and surrounding communities.

But when this all started two decades ago, Jan had a more creative idea to get people to donate. She made her friends and family perform in a variety show, where they would dress up and lip-sync to classics like Sonny & Cher’s, ‘I got you, babe,’ and the Beatles. Basically, any act that would be sure to entertain a crowd, and give people a good laugh.

Despite the shows being more of a comedy act, tickets to get a seat to watch went fast. So fast they would put on two shows in one night!

“I saw lots of ambition and lots of love, and not much talent,” Said Gary McKnight, Jan’s husband.

One of Jan’s elves and close friend, Lucy Thomas admitted that the shows forced her to do things she would’ve never dreamed of doing.

“I sang and danced on stage as Mama Cass, and I don’t do that kind of stuff, but when Jan says you’re going to do it…we love Jan we’ll do anything she says,” Lucy Thomas said with a smirk on her face.

They quit doing the shows after a few years even though they were a hoot.

Turns out people were willing to give money show or no show.

“Actually we made more money not doing it,” Jan said while laughing. “I think people got kind of sick of it.”

Initially, Jan and her elves were getting Christmas presents for around 30 kids. Just for context, Valley Falls is home to just over 1,100 people.

Over the years that number has grown to a little more than 50 kids. That doesn’t mean 50 presents, they go all out, making sure each child receives 12 presents or more.

“I see the strength in a small community, and I see that ability for people to say, we can make a difference, and that to me is what this is,” Jan’s wife George said as tears welled up in his eyes. “That’s pretty powerful.

And to think it all started because Jan had one big idea, to help the kids in her community who otherwise may never receive a Christmas present, “I just thought you know we can’t keep them fed and we can’t keep them warm, ” Jan said. “But for one day if I can make a kid feel like they matter….” And she’s done it, for 27 years now and counting.

You can help Jan on her mission to spread Christmas cheer by donating money to: P.O. Box 188Valley Falls, Ks. 66088-0188.

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