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Woman celebrates 70th birthday of beloved reindeer


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HOLLADAY -- Just about everybody loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but then there's Sally Ingalls of Holladay. She takes love of Rudolph to a whole different level.

Ingalls even celebrated Rudolph's 70th birthday and recalling the surprising circumstances of his birth. She was joined by several friends as she hosted the birthday party.

Her friends don't necessarily share her devotion, but they came anyway.

"Because I love Sally, and she loves Rudolph," explained Tracine Smoot.

Ingalls raised a toast to the mythical reindeer, and the group shared a birthday cake decorated with Rudolph's name in icing.

Although this secret should never be revealed to children, Rudolph doesn't actually exist. But Ingalls' friends don't see anything wrong with celebrating him anyway.

"There are three licensed psychologists at this party, myself being one, and we think it's very healthy," Dorothee Surpas said. "Oh yes, it's nutty. But it's very healthy."

Ingalls' home is decorated with countless objects and images of Rudolph.

Her collection began when she was about 5 years old, she explained, pointing to a small candle molded to look like the reindeer with the red nose. She received it as a gift from her parents in about 1950.

Ingalls' parents also gave her a recording of the famous tale, which she listened to over and over.

"I just really fell in love with the Rudolph story," Ingalls said.

By 1950, Rudolph was a decade old. Ingalls has a book, which is a reproduction of the 1939 original. It's a little-known fact that the story was written, on assignment, by a staff copywriter on the payroll of the Montgomery Ward department and catalog store.

Yes, Rudolph began life as a marketing ploy. Copies of Robert May's original book were given away by department store's Santas in 1939.

Rudolph's popularity really took off a decade later when May's brother-in-law wrote the song. It was a big hit for cowboy singer Gene Autry.

"I'm not sure it was totally a gimmick," Ingalls said.

She thinks the story lives on because Rudolph means something to people.

"Maybe because he's a little conquering hero or something," Ingalls said. "A 'character makes good'-kind of element to the story."

So in fact, Rudolph does exist. If not in reality, in every way that counts: in people's hearts.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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