Elf makes life #039;merry#039;

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 24, 2002

The Merry Elf waved a wand and a pink and silver box opened revealing chocolates wrapped to look like silver and gold coins.

"This is elf magic," she said.

The Merry Elf spreads Christmas cheer and "elf magic" in Austin throughout the holiday season, visiting schools, nursing homes, the YMCA and the hospital to brighten people's holiday season.

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"I just want to cheer people up," the Merry Elf said.

The Merry Elf, also known as Mary Nelson, can been seen on her "elf skis," making her way through Austin with "magical" ski poles that light up and sparkle. Nelson gives out candy to children and tennis balls to those in nursing homes for their walkers.

She holds an elf party each year at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester and sometimes makes appearances in the Twin Cities. When she's not doing her elf duties, Nelson works at Hormel Foods Corporation. She said she has been spreading "elf magic" for a quite a few years, but did not know the exactly how long.

"I'm gifted with good health and all this energy. Why waste it?" Nelson said.

Besides spreading Christmas cheer, she also gives children some tips to having a good Christmas. She tells them to thank their relatives and friends for gifts and to help their parents around the house.

Her trips to schools also give her a chance to promote a cause she's passionate about -- safety helmet use. Nelson, who participates in the MS TRAM every year, said it's important that children wear safety helmets when biking, skating, rollerblading and skate boarding.

In the classes she visits, she asks the students if they like riding bike or skating. Then she asks if they have a helmet. If they don't, she encourages them to ask their parents for one for Christmas. She tells the children, the elves at the North Pole always wear helmets when testing toys.

"My real goal is to promote helmet safety because it's really important to this elf to have children wear helmets," she said.

This year more children raised their hands when she asked if they had a helmet, she said.

"I was thrilled to see more hands going up," she said.

But her visits are not all seriousness. Added to her red and white elf suit is a belt with lights, a place for candy and a Scooby Doo stuffed animal that talks. She travels on skis with wheels when there isn't snow. Sometimes she hauls sleigh bells into classrooms to ring.

"I try to get something new, something fun," Nelson said of the props she brings along.

Nelson has to call ahead of time before visiting some places, other times people ask her to stop by, she said.

"I get a lot of thank you's," she said.

This elf isn't alone. Many friends and family members help her wrap toys for the Ronald McDonald house and tennis balls for the nursing home residents, she said.

Nelson said it's the little things that make her trips around town enjoyable. The wide eyes of a fascinated child or the hearty laugh of a elderly man in a nursing home let her know she is making someone's Christmas a little brighter.

"My goal is just to try and see as many people as I can," the Merry Elf said. "It's not complicated. It's just fun to see everyone."

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at cari.quam@austindailyherald.com