Friday, April 27, 2012

Don Goers - International Santa Claus Hall of Fame

Last Saturday, April 21, 2012, upwards of 700 Santas and Mrs. Clauses came to the 2nd annual Jim Yellig Santa Claus Workshop in Santa Claus, Indiana. The event also included the induction ceremony for the new members of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. The Class of 2011, which was announced to the public on December 22, 2011, was honored along with the charter members of the Class of 2010. I am very fortunate to be in this exclusive “club” as I was enshrined as the first living Santa with the charter class.

At this year’s enshrinement my best known predecessor and friend, the late Santa Don Goers, was inducted. Don passed away a year ago in May 2011. It was a sad day and one that I shall not forget because of the irony of Santa’s Village re-opening for the first time in 5 years. Don never got to see the park up and running again and that to this day bothers me. We did have a small celebration at the park for him with some of his family present in August of 2011.

Don’s family and friends were in attendance this past weekend for his induction. I too was there. Santa Don Goers induction into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame is a fitting tribute to man who always smiled and saw the best in people. His Hall of Fame plaque reads…

Don Goers
“Santa with a Smile”
Dundee, Illinois

Don Goers didn’t play Santa, he was Santa. As one of the longest tenured Santas in theme park history, Goers began his career in 1959. He is among the original men who played the role at Santa’s Village Theme Park in Dundee, Illinois. In 1966, Goers took over the role fulltime becoming Santa from Santa’s Village and being in costume 200 days a year. It would be a position he would hold for 14 years. As Santa, he invoked a jolly demeanor that was more a reflection of his personality making him a natural for the character. His wide smile and hearty belly laugh became his trademark. Goers spent twenty years at Santa’s Village in the maintenance department and as Santa. He helped the park grow from just a few rides and attractions to a Chicagoland icon. Each year, tens of thousands of children visited him in Santa’s House. Goers left the park in 1979, returning only once to be Santa. In 1994 he returned for the 35th anniversary celebration of Santa’s Village.

Don joins 24 other men in the Hall and is deserving of being one of the first 25 to be inducted. His entrance is special for me also as I sat on his knee in 1966 and we will always be connected by Santa’s Village and the role of Santa from Santa’s Village. Now our plaques hang together in the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame in Santa Claus, Indiana. How cool is that! Somehow, someway, I know Santa Don Goers was present Saturday in Santa Claus, Indiana…you could tell he was, as everyone was smiling, just the way Don always did.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pondering being Santa

Sometimes I sit back and ponder what my life would have been like without Santa Claus. Today is Easter Sunday 2012 and I have been in full regalia over a dozen times already this year. It started in February doing promotions, photo shoots and related activities for Santa’s Village. This month, April 2012, we have a couple day in the suit, but more importantly, we have over 700 Santas and Mrs. Clauses coming to Santa Claus, Indiana in less than two weeks to be a part of the Jim Yellig Santa Claus Workshop. After the Workshop in in May 2012 Santa’s Village opens to the public for the season and Santa appearances for the park will stretch until the end of October…and then the real Christmas Season begins in November and December.

I know that I am very fortunate to be able to have a true year round Santa career for over a quarter century. It is special and I know it. But just as many people, especially other Santas, wonder what my world is like, I sometimes wonder what their world is like. It is something that I am not sure I will ever really know. And that is okay. Being Santa is a vocation and a fulltime paying job for me. It is my work, my living, what I am all about, and what I do. Just like most, I like to get away from my job and not think about it. I have hobbies, but to many people surprises, my hobbies have nothing to do with Santa or Christmas. After a certain time of the day, heck, I don’t even want to talk about Santa. And for some reason that surprises some folks.

April 19, 20, and 21st at the Jim Yellig Santa Claus Workshop, hundreds of Santas will be coming dressed in all sorts of Casual Claus clothes. The first time I saw this, it reminded me of a comic book convention I attended years ago in Chicago. I saw dozens of “Batmans”, “Supermans”, “Spidermans” and many other characters being portrayed by attendees. It was wild. These folks really get into this stuff. I guess so do guys who play Santa. I guess it is a release from their real jobs and real worlds. I on the other hand I will just be me, Phil, at the Workshop as I want to get away from my real job, which is being Santa. I do enjoy the pageantry of the Casual Claus, though I do not fully understand it. And probably never will no matter how many times someone tries to explain it to me.

The Jim Yellig Santa Claus Workshop will be fun, but the best part of it will be… I get to see others really get excited about portraying Santa. I get to hear about all the stories of a Santa’s past seasons. I get to see friendships being made and acquaintances being renewed. I get to see some really neat outfits. I get to be behind the scenes seeing people smile and enjoy the Spirit of St. Nicholas. I get to be just a normal guy among a sea of white beards and red shirts. I get to smile, be “the child” and enjoy the magic. I get to be me, Phil, not Santa.

And I would not have it any other way.
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