It's not every day that Santa visits Little Red School in Forest City. But some gifts, it seems, just can't wait until Christmas Eve.
That gift was the return of Jacob Alexander to Forest City. Jacob, a petroleum vehicle operator in the Army, has been deployed to Kuwait since February. It was the wish of his daughter, Aubrey, 4, for him to be home this Christmas.
"I took her to see Santa on Saturday, and all she asked for was a Shopkins Bus and for her daddy to be home for Christmas," said Nancy Caldwell, Jacob's mother. "All I wanted for Christmas was this - this is the biggest gift she could get for Christmas."
Aubrey knew her dad would be home around Christmas, said her grandfather, Seth Miller, but she thought it would be for Christmas Day.
"About a month ago, we called the Santa Claus hotline," Seth said. "Aubrey told Santa then that what she wanted for Christmas was her daddy."
When he arrived at Little Red School on Dec. 15, Santa recalled his conversation with Aubrey. As he delivered treats to her classmates, he realized that he'd run out just as he got to Aubrey. Instead, he asked, maybe she would like to open the large gift in the corner of the room.
As the box was lifted off to reveal Jacob, Aubrey leapt from the floor into his arms, crying "Daddy! I missed you!"
This deployment wasn't Jacob's first, but it is the first since Aubrey has been old enough to understand, her mother, Kesha Alexander, said.
"I keep telling her that daddy has an important job to do," Kesha said. "It's been incredibly hard to keep it secret that he'd be home."
The idea to reveal Jacob using Santa Claus was a collaborative effort among Aubrey's family, Seth said.
"One night I was sitting outside and realized something was missing," he said. When he realized Santa should be in on the surprise, he contacted Amy Bridges, downtown and community development director in Forest City. Bridges put him in touch with the Town's Santas. Santa Paws (Kenny Ullrich) responded to Seth's request.
"I've been Santa Paws for a long time, but I'm only Santa Claus on special occasions," Ullrich said. As an ex-Marine, it was one way he could give back to those currently serving.
"It is my thank you to them," he said.
The event was a first for Little Red School, said director Lori Delfosse.
"We've done other things, but not a surprise like this," she said.
Although the family was able to talk and see each other through the Internet, seeing Aubrey in person took Jacob by surprise.
"All the pictures, even though I saw them daily .... she looks so much bigger and like a little lady in person," he said.
When asked what she plans to give her dad for Christmas, Aubrey replied "I'm going to give him big hugs."
The family plans to spend the holidays visiting with their families and by taking a carriage ride in downtown Forest City. After the holidays, they will return to base at Fort Carson, Colo.