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Monadnock Profiles: A Santa in Jaffrey

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone of Jaffrey has a busy month of December helping to fill the role of Santa in the region, including at storytime at the Jaffrey Library this week. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • John Stone at Jaffrey's tree lighting in 2017. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/4/2019 10:15:03 PM

Something magical happens when John Stone puts on his red suit. He doesn’t just take on the role of Santa Claus, he becomes him.

The pants and jacket, the big black belt, the boots and the hat, it’s almost as if this immediate transformation takes place. It’s hard to describe, but it’s something Stone truly believes.

“All of a sudden I was Santa. I wasn’t John Stone anymore,” he said.

He has the beard to match, having changed to a natural shade of white three years into his tenure of principal at Rindge Memorial School, and once he’s got the whole traditional outfit put together, it’s not hard to see why children all over the region truly believe Santa is right in front of them.

It was 27 years ago when Stone first decided to fill the role left by the passing of Aylmer Given, who he describes as the Jaffrey Santa. Stone looked up to Given, how he was able to connect with the children and not just play Saint Nick, but truly be him.

“He was, I’d say, my idol,” Stone said. “I just admired the guy. He was Santa.”

The first year they had someone else in the role around Jaffrey, “but it wasn’t Aylmer.”

“So I asked permission from his wife if I could follow in his footsteps,” Stone said.

Over the years, Stone has embraced the responsibility because he knows how special it is when a young child gets to meet the man who will place that special present under the tree.

“You have to believe in the magic of Christmas, the magic of Santa,” Stone said.

All the conversations he’s had with children are meaningful. There have been ones that stuck with him over the years, like when they ask for their dad to come home from war or to be able to see their grandma again, and it’s those moments that makes the role he fills more than something he does during the month of December.

“Every kid is special to me,” Stone said.

As a lifetime educator, it’s easy to see how Stone could make the transition to Santa in retirement. He began his teaching career in his home state of Massachusetts, but came to Jaffrey in 1978 as a language arts and social studies teacher in Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School. He knew nothing about the town he’s called home for the last 41 years, but he and his wife Helen knew quickly it was a place where they could raise a family.

With a baby boy in tow when they moved to town, they bought the house they still live in three years later and saw their family grow to five over the years with three boys, Mark, Jeff and Ashley.

Stone never felt a calling to education. He wasn’t the smartest student, a bit of a troublemaker, but early on in his time at North Adams State College, which is now known as the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, he saw education as a path he could take. In fact, the way he got into the education program is a bit of a funny story. 

“I looked at all the lines (for majors) and education was the shortest one,” Stone said.

Once he got into the classroom, Stone realized he could connect with students and had a passion to get them excited about the work.

“I knew what tuned me off, so I looked at ways to get kids interested in learning,” Stone said. “I made learning fun.”

He spent 18 years at JRMS before the principal job at Rindge Memorial opened up. For the next 16 years, he oversaw the elementary school in Rindge, earning New Hampshire Elementary School Principal of the Year honors in 2009. Along the way he got his masters at Keene State College and spent two and a half years as a teacher trainer. He retired in 2012, having spent 34 years in the district. Helen also was an educator at Jaffrey Grade School.

“I was very happy teaching and extremely happy being a principal – most of the time,” Stone said.

At times he got frustrated with the direction of education and the emphasis placed in testing.

“Kids learn on their own level and it wasn’t fair to all the students,” Stone said.

Stone describes himself as a kid at heart, so his long career in education makes all the sense in the world. He connected with the students on a special level and now looking back, he couldn’t imagine working in another profession.

With Helen staying home with the boys, Stone needed a way to earn some extra money. He began working for the New Hampshire State Park system as a ranger at Monadnock State Park in the spring of 1979, climbing the mountain every other Saturday for many years, performing trail maintenance and whatever else came with job. He worked at Monadnock State Park until he became principal, also helping to oversee the campground.

It took about six months after leaving the education world before he needed something to do. There’s only so many projects around the house someone can do and fishing trips they can take before there’s a noticeable void.

In addition to his busy month of December, Stone has driven a bus for the adult daycare program at Monadnock Family Services two days a week for many years, doing pickups and drop offs. His mom had Alzheimer’s so “I understand what these people are going through,” he said.

“I’ve been doing it ever since and loving it,” Stone said.

Stone is proud of all his boys and what they’ve accomplished with their lives. Jeff lives in California and works for Pixar, having been involved with a number of successful movies, like “Toy Story 4”, “Coco” and “Finding Dory”. Mark lives in Jaffrey and is Stone’s hunting and fishing partner and Ashley is in Connecticut where he works as a software engineer for 3M. Between his three boys, he has five grandkids.

In what has become an annual tradition, Stone will be at the Jaffrey tree lighting on Friday night, but just don’t call him by his real name because he won’t answer. He only answers to Santa.

Because Stone believes in the magic of the season and it’s his responsibility to provide that sense of magic to every little boy and girl – and adult – he sees when wearing one of his three red suits.

“It’s not a costume, it’s an outfit. Actors wear costumes, I’m Santa,” Stone said.

His schedule for the month includes tree lightings, visits to libraries and private parties. He’s even going to make one stop via helicopter.

“I just like making people happy,” Stone said.

In the summer, he’s been to Fisher Cats and Swamp Bats games for Christmas-themed events and even has a hat that says “Yes I am” for those who wonder if they’re in the presence of Saint Nick when he’s not dressed in the traditional sense. It seems like everywhere he goes he gets the question.

It’s been said this is the most wonderful time of the year and Stone couldn’t agree more.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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