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She's a part-time elf, full-time physical therapist

Jingles the Elf (Cindy Rieck) holds up the lyrics to “Jingle Bells” as the audience sings along with Santa and Mrs. Claus Saturday, Dec. 9, during Pequot Lakes’ Santa’s Bobbin’ into Town event. Rieck has been Jingles the Elf for the last six years for the event. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 1 / 2
Cindy Rieck opened Pequot Lakes Physical Therapy 32 years ago and thoroughly enjoys helping people and watching them improve. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 2 / 2

Kids recognize her as Santa's helper Jingles the Elf at Pequot Lakes' Santa's Bobbin' into Town event each year.

But underneath the sparkly makeup and festive costume is Cindy Rieck, owner of Pequot Lakes Physical Therapy for the last 32 years.

For the six years Pequot Lakes has held its Christmas event, Rieck has happily delighted kids with her balloon animal-making skills and elfish antics. But Jingles is more than just a character for Rieck. It's almost a family tradition.

"Part of what I like about being Jingles is that when I was growing up, my dad played Santa. He was Santa for my school, for the Union Gospel Mission, for all the kids in the neighborhoods and my cousins," Rieck said. "So I think the whole Christmas thing makes that a little bit more of an appeal for me."

Rieck started playing Santa's helper when she was old enough to realize her dad was in the Santa suit and wasn't just missing his appearance each Christmas.

Jingles the Elf came into the picture many years later, but Pequot Lakes wasn't her first appearance. Rieck - who grew up in the Twin Cities and worked there for a time after college - said she had a friend in that area who ran a Santa Claus company.

"He asked if I and a friend of mine would be elves, so we actually went to elf school," Rieck said. "I can say I'm a professionally trained elf."

The two elves - Jingles and Jangles - were part of a group that performed at events for corporations like Tonka Toys, Medtronic and Target.

"We had a whole routine," she said. "Back then I could do cartwheels and all that stuff."

Shortly after her year of learning to be an elf in the Twin Cities, Rieck moved to the lakes area and eventually revived Jingles in Pequot Lakes, where the elf is now well-known.

"What I enjoy about Jingles is just the different people in the community coming together to put together an event for the town," she said. "It's fun being able to make kids smile."

Rieck enjoys seeing the excitement on kids' faces when she happens to know their names. One memorable occasion, she said, was during an event for special needs individuals at Target in the Twin Cities. All of the attendees wore name tags, which meant she could call them by name.

"They weren't thinking about that they had their name tags on," she said. "So they were just so impressed that we knew their name."

Though Jingles only comes out once a year, Rieck still gets to help brighten up people's lives the other 364 days as a physical therapist.

Her desire to help people in that way began when she was a junior in high school and a friend of hers was accidentally shot in the head by kids who were target shooting. The injury initially put Rieck's friend in a coma.

"But he came out of it and had to learn how to walk and read and write and everything all over again," she said.

Volunteering in the physical therapy field at hospitals and a nursing home in the Twin Cities helped Rieck make up her mind.

"I started volunteering, and I just love it," she said.

Rieck started her degree at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and transferred to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities after two years, where she then earned her physical therapy degree. She worked at the U of M for six years after graduation and then moved to the lakes area in 1985. Rieck's family began camping near Upper Hay Lake in the early 1960s. Her parents got a cabin on the lake a few years later and then built a house and moved here permanently in 1979. Rieck now lives in the house her parents built.

The now longtime business owner attributes a share of her success to her parents.

"They were a huge help to me," she said. "And now it's been 32 years."

Her father, who started several businesses in the Twin Cities, was especially helpful.

"He was able to direct me to the accountant and direct me to the lawyer and tell me all those things that I needed to do to get a business started," she said.

After 32 years of running her own physical therapy practice, Rieck still enjoys her job and the impact she has on others.

"I enjoy interacting with people. And I like to see people get better and get back to doing the things that they want to do," she said. "It's really a treat to be able to help people. And usually, most people that are referred to therapy, their doctors feel that they have some sort of potential for improvement, so usually I do get to see people get better. So it's a positive job."

Rieck can also be found playing in the handbells choir at Our Savior's Lutheran Church and working with the Pequot Lakes Economic Development Commission and the Thriving Communities Initiative.

Whether she's wearing her jingling elf costume or her everyday attire, Rieck is constantly working to strengthen the Pequot Lakes community and bring happiness to those around her.