Couple plays king, queen of Christmas

North Pole residents represent hometown of Santa with flair

Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Since coronation ceremonies in early December, Willy and Francie Cork, the new king and queen of North Pole, have enthusiastically been fulfilling their royal duties with wit and flair.

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"We're loving this," Francie said. "If anybody needs a king and queen, we're on call."

The longtime North Pole residents are pleased as well as passionate about representing Santa Claus's hometown.

"This is just an honor," each Cork said in turn.

"We're going to have a lot of fun with our kingdom," said the queen.

The northern monarchs get a charge out of flaunting their royal regalia - flowing red robes with white fur collars, a kingly crown for him, a sparkling tiara for her, and a shiny scepter wielded by Francie. And their royal calendar is filling up fast with scheduled appearances.

"We've got gigs," Francie said delightedly.

The royal couple has already appeared at a North Pole First Friday art show, with the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific and presented awards at the North Pole Ice Art event.

Strong supporters of the North Pole Branch Library, the Corks are slated to cut birthday cakes for in-house pet celebrations - Walter the fish in January and Hawkeye the turtle in February.

"They (Corks) are a joy to have here," said Tina Shih, library assistant. "Every time they walk in, it's fun to see them and great to talk to them.

"They're avid library users and they're the folks who donated our oldest library pet, Hawkeye, the turtle who is very popular with the kids - they just love him."

The Corks walk or run everywhere around North Pole's city center and Willy's long white hair and beard sparks a lot of attention.

During the summer tourist season, it's not uncommon for visitors to stop the couple near the Santa Claus House and ask them to poise for photographs.

"When you live in North Pole and you look like Willy, you gotta do what you gotta," joked Francie.

Although he is frequently taken for Santa Claus, Willy is quick to identify himself as "Santa's brother."

"I'm the one who gives out the coal," is his standard response.

The Corks are former business owners of Cork's Pit Shop, a full service gas and liquor store. They live in the original homestead home on Holiday Road, that Francie's pioneer parents, Jim and Grace Ford, proved up on in 1948.

Jim Ford was North Pole's first mayor and Grace Ford was a city council member.

Francie is carrying on the royal family line. Her late mother was North Pole queen in 1980.

The Corks' two sons, Jeff and Jason, like their mother, were raised in the small community just south of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway but moved on after high school. Jeff now lives in St. Paul, Minn., and Jason resides in Durango, Colo.

Given the Corks new found royal notoriety, Francie joked, "The kids are somewhat relieved they don't live in this town anymore."

However, the Corks enjoy traveling and visiting their sons and young grandchild. On the first leg of a trip next fall they look forward to stopping by Taylor, B.C., North Pole's Canadian sister city, which they describe as similar to North Pole.

The Corks look upon their royal roles as a great opportunity to promote their community and all it has to offer.

"There is a lot going on in North Pole that people don't know about," said Francie, ticking off the current Christmas Ice Art exhibit at Santaland RV Park, next to the Santa Claus House; Tastes of North Pole, the Fourth of July Festival, the Mayor's Picnic, senior activities and the town's many community organizations and groups.

According to former North Pole City Mayor Jeff Jacobson, the energetic couple have been and continue to be involved in community events and frequently attend city council meetings suggesting great ideas for improving the city.

"You name it and if they're in town they'll help you," Jacobson said. "They worked on the charter commission and the housing association and served as Alaska International Senior Games board members. And you often see them walking around town and picking up trash as they go."

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