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Ojai Valley News


Ojai 'Elves' Come to the Rescue: Toy Store Saves Christmas for Ventura Family

Friday, December 27, 1991

By Karen Smith


Like Dr. Seuss' Grinch, thieves stole a Ventura family's Christmas on Christmas Eve. But they obviously didn't reckon with Ojai's own elves, Lilly and Joe Barthelemy, owners of Serendipity Toys.


Ron Haire and his family had left their home at 6 p.m. on December 24 to spend Christmas Eve with family friends. Before 9 o'clock, they returned home, planning on bedding down their little ones and preparing for Christmas. "We walked in, and we were just shocked. The place and been stripped. They'd taken our VCR, televisions, jewelry - even the prime rib roast my wife had left defrosting for Christmas dinner," Haire said.


Of all the things the burglars took, most heartbreaking were the missing Christmas presents. "The kids, especially the little ones, looked under the tree and saw that bare floor, and their eyes started to water," Haire said.


Of the Haire family's seven children are five kids, ages 4 through 13, who are firm believers in Santa Claus. "The youngest ones kept asking if any of Santa's presents had been under the tree yet," Haire recalls.


As the distraught parents and grandparents were dealing with the shock of the incident, police officers heard them explaining to the kids that the robbers had taken the presents, and that Santa was very busy this Christmas and might not be stopping at their house.


The officers took it upon themselves to call their dispatcher, Mary Walker of the Ventura Police Department. Walker began dialing Ventura retailers, trying to find a place that either was open, or would be willing to open, so that the family could purchase presents for the children.


Aside from those helpful police officers, Christmas spirit in Ventura was not exactly overwhelming. All of Walker's calls resulted in only one place that was willing to help: a Thrifty Drug Store that only agreed to grant the family three minutes in the store.


"Not even Superman could have shopped for seven kids in three minutes," Ron Haire said.


Meantime, here in Ojai, the Barthelemy's had retired for the evening, having worked in their store until 6:30 p.m. At 11 p.m. the telephone woke them from a sound sleep. Mary Walker from the Ventura's Police Department told them the story of the Haires' ruined Christmas Eve. Joe and Lilly Barthelemy said to bring the folks up to Serendipity. "I don't know how they got our number," Joe said, "but as soon as Lilly heard what happened, we were getting up and dressed to come down to the store."


At midnight, the Haires arrived at Serendipity, where Lilly and Joe were waiting with Christmas music playing. "They were so distraught," Joe said.


"Here was this whole family - Mr. and Mrs. Haire, and his parents who were visiting from Texas, and his sister and her roommate, and they all looked like they'd been crying," Lilly said.


As the Haires shopped, Lilly gift wrapped each purchase while Joe helped them make the appropriate selections for their children. "We don't stock a lot of the common, TV-advertised toys, so we asked about the children's ages and likes and dislikes, and showed what we had that might be right," Joe said.


In about an hour and a half, the shopping was finished. The Haire family returned home to place the presents under the tree for the children, who would awaken Christmas morning to find that Santa hadn't been too busy after all.


"The Barthelemy's are just swell," Ron Haire said.


"It made my Christmas," Lilly said.


"What a blessing they were. I don't want to think about what Christmas would have been like without them," Haire said.


"It's what the holiday's all about," Joe added.


And perhaps one final quote would best fit the Haire's Christmas eve experience. "Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night."

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