Update: Mountain Santa family makes public statement

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HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - Early Saturday morning Mike Howard, also known as "Mountain Santa", died at his home on Santa Lane in the Wallins community of Harlan County.

For 41 years "Mountain Santa" handed out gifts to
children, however, this past year cancer made him too weak to continue with year 42.

"It's been humbling to be able to pick-up where he can't this year, it's also sad because it's not the same there's a void," said April Galloway, Mike Howard's daughter. "I said, Dad, I said this is what you raised us to do, this is all we know, don't have to have anything under that tree for me, this is it."

In 2015, Howard talked to WYMT about preparing all year long for his Christmas delivery. "I used to just do it on Christmas Eve and it just got so big. The more I prayed the bigger it got it seemed like," said Howard. "It still amazes me how, how the Lord can do things, he's the one that does it all, all I do with it is get out and do it."

Wallins Elementary School Principal, Stan Nicely said there is a gap now in Harlan County after Howard's death due to the amount of kindness he shared throughout the community.

"That doesn't come naturally, it came from God and because he had a love for God like he did, he had a love for people," Stan Nicely, Principal, Wallins Elementary School said.

Mike Howard was awarded the 2016 Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities Volunteer of the Year award. Howard also won the 2017 National Volunteer of the Year award through the American Health Care Association.

"If I have met an angel on earth, it was Mike Howard," said Gail Hensley, Administrator, Harlan Health and Rehabilitation Center said. "If anybody is in Heaven and has their wings, it's him."

Funeral arrangements for Howard are being handled by the Anderson-Laws and Jones Funeral Home. His visitation will be Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Harlan Center. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday also at the Harlan Center. He will be buried in the Park-Howard Cemetery in Wallins.

Willie Galloway, Howard's son-in-law, shared this statement on behalf of the family.

As many of you may know, Harlan County's “Mountain Santa” Mike Howard passed away on Jan. 6, 2018. With over 40 years of dedication as a volunteer and a genuine ambassador to the citizens of Harlan County, his battle on Earth is over. He was a devoted Christian who provided Christmas for needy children, ministry to jail inmates and the nursing homes. He will be laid to rest on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

The Howard family asks they are granted privacy from TV cameras and interviews during the visitation and funeral services.

“We know how much everyone loved Mike and how much he will be missed by all the lives he touched,” said Howard's wife, Barb. “Our family loves all of you just as much as Mike loved you."

Howard's wife of 41 years said his dedication was something to behold.

"Even when he was sick he would still go out and make sure everyone had something for Christmas who was in need," she said. "The frigid temperatures and obstacles could not stop Mike.”

Howard was also known to always have a smile on his face for anyone he met. He never met a stranger. If you met him, he would always have something good to say about the Lord and how the Lord always made a way for him to continue his ministry for over 40 years.

“Our family is heartbroken that Mike is gone and we will miss him more than words can ever express,” said Barb. “I please ask for no interviews at this time or TV cameras at the services. This is the time for his family and friends to mourn his departure from this life. We will now have to await our time to join him in Heaven.”

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