By Nancy Price
Every year in December we see him – at the mall, at Christmas parties and in parades. The portly, jolly guy dressed in crimson, with a snow-colored beard, ruddy cheeks and infectious laugh that brings smiles to those around him.
What is it like to play the holiday season’s biggest superhero?
Two Southside residents – Jim Winton of Franklin Township and Ron Adams of Southport – can tell you. They’ve played Santa for years. Jim’s wife, Sue, also accompanies her husband as Mrs. Claus.
A FACE FOR SANTA
“Jim has a face that really looks like Santa Claus,” said Sue. “It’s fun to watch; he’ll be walking in the mall even without a suit. The kids keep turning around to look at him. One time we were in a restaurant and there was a mom and her little boy – the look on his face. He couldn’t figure out if he was really Santa. It’s fun to watch the kids’ expressions when they see him.”
Even adults do a double-take – including celebrities. Winton recalled attending a show in Branson, Mo., where singer Tony Orlando was performing. It was a Christmas show accompanied by a Santa and as Orlando was strolling around the aisles past his guests, he abruptly stopped when he saw Winton. “He said, ‘Hold the music, Santa, I’ve got your relation here,’” said Winton.
Winton, who’s lived most of his life in Wanamaker, has played Santa for 21 years. He first started his seasonal gig during Christmas parties when he was working at Sallie Mae on the north side of Indianapolis. It wasn’t long before he made appearances in the annual Wanamaker Christmas parade. “It was a natural progression for me to decide to join him and be Mrs. Claus,” added Sue.
Adams was inspired by his granddaughter Cecilia. “When my first granddaughter was born, I had been going through some serious medical issues and did not know how long I was going to be around,” he said. “I loved her so much that I wanted to do something special for her to remember her Papa. From there it was all word of mouth.”
A LOCAL CELEBRITY
Adams, who, like Winton, grows a beard months in advance to play Santa, enjoys the recognition he gets when he’s dressed up as Santa. “If I walk into a Starbucks for coffee many times someone buys for me and many want photos with Santa,” he said. “If there are children present, I will buy them a treat (with permission from their parents). I wave as I drive by in my Santa gear. People love it.”
Adams has played Santa at car dealerships, jewelry stores and private parties. His favorite events are at schools, where of course, there are “lots and lots of ‘believers,’” he said. “A few years ago I was playing Santa at my wife’s school. She is a kindergarten teacher. I visited nearly 500 children that day. I usually pass out bells from Santa’s sleigh but could not afford 500 bells. So, just for fun I stuffed one in my pocket. My wife approached me and asked if I brought any bells, and I replied, ‘Sorry, I just brought one.’ She said, ‘Perfect, you will need that bell for one special child.’ I asked her, ‘How will I know who that child is?’ She said, ‘You will know.’”
“So, I walked into the classroom, greeted the children, listened to their wishes and noticed one little girl, bald, wearing a scarf, suffering from cancer,” he continued. “I had to bite my lip to keep back the tears. I read them a story and announced that it was time to return to the North Pole, but I had one bell for a special child. Of course I picked her out of 30-plus students and presented her with a bell from Santa’s sleigh. The look on her face was priceless. When my wife got home that night, she told me that this little angel’s teacher told my wife that at every break this little girl would go to her backpack and shake it to hear Santa’s bell.”
AN UNUSUAL REQUEST
Children will typically ask Winton and Adams for Legos, dolls, electronics and pets, however, they they’ve had a few unusual requests throughout the years. Winton recalled one little boy asking for a pony. “He said, ‘You can tie that pony to the fence in my backyard,’” said Winton.
Winton also likes to tease older kids by asking if he want a boyfriend or girlfriend for Christmas. “They blush and say ‘no.’ A few say, ‘yes, I do want one of those,’” he said.
Sadly, COVID-19 has affected the holiday season as more cases rise, and that includes popular events, including visits with Santa. Yet the spirit of Christmas – and Santa – remains. Winton and Adams look forward to next year.
“I have often said, as long as there are believers, I will be Santa Claus,” Adams said.