Glenwood resident Bob Fisher started a holiday hobby that has lasted for 10 years -because of his son’s wedding.
Fisher’s son, Christian, asked all the men in his wedding party to grow beards for the big day. Bob had never grown a beard , but eventually agreed.
Bob’s wife, Jan, liked the sight of him with a beard and encouraged him to keep it after the wedding. At that point, she got an idea.
“I never saw myself as Santa Claus, specifically, but Jan said she’d like to see me play Santa,” Bob said.
He grew his hair, gained a bit of weight, and became Santa. Jan sewed a costume for him, because, they said, Santa suits are expensive. A
quality store-bought Santa suit can cost $700 or more.
The first year, Bob played Santa for Mills County State Bank (now First National Bank). One event was all he needed to know this was a natural job for him.
“I do this for the kids,” Bob said. “Every year I wonder if I’m going to do this. After the first time, I’m hooked.”
Bob’s hobby keeps him busy during the holidays. He appears for free at community functions, and for a fee of $50 at private parties, every weekend throughout December. The Fishers also travel each year with their church group to the Uppercut Meat community at Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The Glenwood Community Church group feeds this impoverished community a meal, distributes clothing and gives the kids an opportunity to visit with Santa and receive a gift from him.
Based on the number of candy canes he distributes, Bob estimates his Santa visits hundreds of kids each year.
Playing Santa has given Bob lots of fond memories.
“A 12-year old girl at the bank once said she didn’t believe in Santa. I talked to her and by the time she left, I think she believed.”
“My grandson came in to the bank one time when he was about 3 years old. He walked right up to me and said, ‘Santa, your truck is parked outside,’” Bob said. “I was scared he would blow my cover, but he played it cool.”
A classic question that children ask Santa is “Where are your reindeer?” Bob has a uniquely Midwest answer for that question.
“I fly the reindeer into Offutt Air Force Base and leave them there,” he said. “The soldiers take good care of them.”
One girl once asked him why his face was red.
Santa's reply? “I think I got a touch of frostbite.”
Children may know what Santa is talking about when he mentions elves and flying reindeer, but Santa doesn't always know what children talk about when they ask him for their desired Christmas gifts.
“I can’t keep up with these current toys, especially these electronic toys,” Bob said. “iPods, iPads, iSomething ... I have no idea what they are talking about. I probably should research toys.”
Not every kid wants a Macintosh product for Christmas, or any other toy. These are the wishes that Bob remembers most.
“Every year there is something that a lot of kids ask for that isn't a toy. One year it was peace. That was the year the war started. One year a lot of kids were asking for their parents to get back together. Those really get to me.”
“Last year kids were asking for only one or two things. In other years they may have wanted half a dozen. I think a lot of times parents don't believe kids understand that the economy is tighter, but they are very much aware. It will be interesting to see what this year brings.”
Many children are unsure about Santa Claus, particularly those between ages 2 and 3. According to Bob, this may be because Santa looks like a clown, with a red nose and cheeks and a bright red costume. Bob talks to these children, asks them what they are doing for Christmas and what they hope to get for Christmas. Most eventually warm up to the gentle elf.
“It took more than an hour to get one child to come up to me,” he said. “The grandma convinced his sister to come close to me so she could get a picture. Eventually the little guy came up and stood next to me, but I couldn't get him to sit on my lap.”
“I tell the parents not to force the kids to sit on my lap. If they really don’t want to come up, then it's not worth it.”
Embodying the image of the iconic big guy gives the Fishers an automatic talking point when they meet strangers.
“It’s definitely an ice breaker,” Jan said. “He’s booked parties during dinner at Red Lobster, he’s booked them at Wal-Mart … just from strangers asking if he’s Santa.”
Bob has been asked to play Santa while on vacation in Denali, Alaska, and in the southern U.S. for a steamboat. He has turned these down as the companies would not have been able to pay for his lodging, but was pleased to be asked.
Bob has also never played Santa at a shopping center, because he desires to spread the meaning of Christmas.
“It would be fun, but I don’t want to commercialize,” Bob said. “I always try to talk to the children about the fact that this is Jesus’ birthday.”
The very sight of Santa can have a positive effect on kids.
“We were on vacation in Branson one time, and there was a kid in a restaurant being loud and kinda acting up. I just shook my finger at him slightly, and he ran and hid behind the counter the rest of the time,” Bob chuckled. “Down at Tom & Tiff’s they (the staff) have told me they love to have me there because the kids always behave better.”