December 18, 2014
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Secret Santa
Garden City’s longtime Mr. Claus marks 25 years
Steve Popiel
SANTA’S ARRIVAL: Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in Garden City in a horse-drawn carriage for their 25th year this past Nov. 30. He has donned the Santa suit for approximately 35 years; beginning as a senior in high school.

Let me share with you one of the best-kept secrets about the Garden City Santa Claus – the man who has been portraying Santa since 1978, when he first donned the Santa suit as a senior in high school while working at McDonald’s.

Although I cannot reveal his true identity, he does hail from Warwick and is now celebrating 25 years of being Santa Claus in Garden City Center.

Once Santa agreed to the role in high school, he spent time at a special workshop that covered make up, movements and everything else that went along with the red suit. After spending just one afternoon in a toy store, he was confident that he was ready.

Since then, the Warwick resident was hooked. After his first appearance, he did many visits to family and friends’ houses unannounced, only to be asked, “Who are you?” To tell you who he is would spoil the magic he brings to so many, in Garden City and throughout Rhode Island.

“Year after year, I did more and more visits to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and anyone else who needed to be cheered up or help find that special feeling that comes once a year,” said Santa.

Throughout this time, he would hear stories – some happy, some sad, some good, some bad – and knew he could do more.

He settled down in the early 1980s and received the nicest red suit as an early Christmas present from Mrs. Claus, his wife.

He would ask different agencies and call on friends for donations, and make appearances with the stipulation they would make a donation of what was needed to grant the wish of the child or family. Bikes, dolls, games, footballs, skateboards, guitars – you name it, he got it delivered, with a lot of help from his secret Santa specialists.

As the word got out more and more, requests continued to come in, and he would do as much as possible to help.

There was, for example, a family of eight who had fallen on hard times. He said, “Just get me the children’s wishes on a list,” and the night before Christmas, he delivered all the presents on the list and gifts for the parents as well.

“One year in Cranston, a request came for help for the families who were caught right before the holiday by flood waters. The 12 families needed help, and they got it and more,” said Santa. It did not matter whom, what or where – Santa was there.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, sundaes – it did not matter if he could help them reach their goal. At times, if they fell a little short, he would reach into his pocket and make up the difference if he could. He not only portrays Santa; he is Santa in so many ways, as he continues to provide smiles, joy, the magic of Christmas and assistance to the community.

When Santa started his family, things got very tricky around the holidays. Yet his two young daughters and his wife, Mrs. Claus, would attend parties, functions and family gatherings that this man would be at, and they would visit and have their pictures taken with him.

“This went on for years,” said Santa. “And my children always questioned, ‘How come dad never comes to these parties?’ Mrs. Claus would say, ‘Your dad is working and works very hard to provide for all of us.’”

This ruse went on for 11 years, explained Santa.

When the call came his way that Garden City needed his services, he answered. He has visited there for the last 25 years, seeing old and new friends.

“The greatest location and people you would ever want to be associated with are at Garden City Center,” said Santa. “There are a great deal of nice changes going on there, [including] new stores and not to mention my new cabin.

“Speaking of changes, parents who brought their children to visit are now grandparents. The children are now parents. Somebody is getting old,” Santa added with a chuckle.

As his children got older, they would join he and his wife as elves to make his appearances very special and full of love and laughter. Throughout the years, he has arrived at many locations throughout the state by boat, fire truck, helicopter, motorcycles, limo and horse-drawn wagon, as in his most recent arrival in Garden City this past Nov. 30.

“Charities are a big part of my life,” said Santa. “Thousands of dollars have been raised for the Santa Fund, ALS, American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish, Hospice of RI, A Wish Come True, RI Food Bank and many others. Thousands of toys have been delivered to the needy, and many a cookie has been eaten after the delivery.”

So the question still remains: Who is this man from Warwick? The answer is simple. He is your husband, father, brother, son, brother-in-law, friend, the guy next door or down the street, uncle, son-in-law, coach and boss. He is the magic of Christmas, and continues to share the magic with children of all ages.

Yes, our readers, there is a Santa Claus.


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