Area Santas driven to help kids; ‘It’s just a sense of reverence’

Santa poses for pictures in front of the Springfield Holiday Tree during the Grand Illumination Friday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Santa poses for pictures in front of the Springfield Holiday Tree during the Grand Illumination Friday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

From his vantage at the North Pole, it makes sense that Santa Claus has seen it all.

Children in the Miami Valley have asked Santa Claus for just about everything, from green M&Ms and peanut butter, to better jobs for their parents, and even have asked Santa to bring their siblings home from the military.

“It’s their world, we’re just living in it,” said Kettering resident Mark DaGrossa, who has represented Santa at Town and Country Shopping Center in Kettering, the Greene, the Dayton Mall, and the tree lighting parade in Austin Landing, to name a few. Despite his busy schedule, DaGrossa always makes sure that children and their families have all the time they need to make the holiday season special.

“Parents stand in line for an hour and a half, two hours, and then they realize that in the next five minutes their kids are getting to see their superhero,” he said. “They’re getting one-on-one time, they’re in heaven, and the parents realize it’s worth it.”

DaGrossa, 59, has been Santa for nearly 10 years, and said there’s always been a shortage of real bearded Santas. However, due to demand, some events this year are willing to compromise on the “real bearded” part.

“The shortage hasn’t impacted around here too much,” he said. “I have to turn down a dozen projects every year, that’s nothing new.”

Experiences with Santa are more in-person endeavors than last year’s snow globes and plexiglass, though not everyone is ready to return to Santa’s knee just yet. Outdoor retail giants Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, which have locations in Centerville and West Chester, anticipate that more than 2 million children and families will take a photo with Santa at their stores. All stores are offering a “Contactless Claus” experience, and advance registration is required.

Virtual Santa visits, which became popular during the pandemic, aren’t going away either. DaGrossa booked the majority of his gigs virtually last year, and still has some video requests on his holiday schedule.

“It’s about what they’re comfortable with,” DaGrossa said. “It’s always been up to the parents to decide what’s best for their family. Some will say no laps, which is totally OK. Other kids will run up to me and give big hugs.”

DaGrossa, who is vaccinated, won’t be sitting in the big red chair wearing a mask, but will have one handy in case it’s needed.

Terry Burkert, a former Fairborn city councilman, has been Santa Claus for the city’s Hometown Holiday Festival for more than eight years. While he is also vaccinated, the pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s at the forefront of his mind.

“Sometimes some of the answers you get from the kids can make you teary eyed,” he said. “Some of the things you hear — getting their mom or dad a job, or getting them a new place to live. When you talk to the kids and you listen to what they ask for, the spirit of listening to them and communicating with them, it’s just a sense of reverence. It makes you feel closer to them and you see how the younger kids are growing up and what they have to deal with.”

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