Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Christmas Special: A half century donning the suit

 

Sydney Yalshevec

Richard "Rich" Elliott, right, of Kimball, portrays Santa in this year's Shop with a Cop program. He has portrayed Santa in the Kimball area since the mid-1960s.

Portraying Santa Claus has been a longtime tradition for Richard "Rich" Elliott of Kimball.

The 79-year old began his time as Santa in the mid-1960s and has portrayed him ever since. This year, he was Santa for Shop with a Cop and also at the Main Street Market open house.

"I enjoyed it," Elliott said. "I love kids, and I never lied to any of them. I never told them I would give them such and such, and this and that. Now, sometimes a mother would come up to me before the kids and say something about what they were going to get, and if they asked for them, tell them, 'Yeah, we might be able to do that.' Kids remember, and they see you one place, and say, 'I just told you down here what I wanted.' They're pretty sharp."

Elliott is not as busy playing Santa as he once was. When he started in the mid-1960s, he donned the red and white costume for most, if not all, of the town's Christmas events for about three years.

"From the day after Thanksgiving, it was pretty busy until after Christmas, you bet," he said. "I'd done the businesses around here, I rode on the fire truck and in the parade. Then I did a lot of personal homes on Christmas Eve, too, passing out gifts and what have you."

"He said lots of weekends were completely full and lined up with (events) Santa had to be at, and he'd always, like the city one or the big one for Santa's helpers, he'd have the kids come and want to talk with them, and was getting too far behind, so the girls were going, 'Hurry up, hurry up.' You can't really talk to a kid and say, 'What do you want for Christmas?,' and get out of the way. He had to finish it up. He liked to talk to them and let them really think it was Santa that was really caring about them and interested in what they wanted. He was taking too long, so they told him to hurry up," his wife, Betty, said with a laugh.

In those first years as Santa, Elliott donned the Santa suit at events for the city, for businesses and also made home visits on Christmas Eve.

"I had a bag and they would put their toys in the bag, and I'd carry the bag in and pass them out and as soon as we'd pass them out, that was it, and we'd go on to the next one," he said. "I usually didn't do over two or three personal houses on Christmas Eve. But it still kept you busy."

At the personal stops, he usually had help from the children's mother and knew where they gifts would be ahead of time.

"They'd usually have the Christmas gifts outside someplace, and you'd go up there and you'd put them in your bag and take them in," he said. "They knew when you were coming and they'd have the gifts wherever. The garage would be unlocked or wherever."

At one of the personal stops years ago, Elliott even had a hand in helping the child quit wetting the bed. The mother told him about the problem ahead of time and asked him to speak to the boy about it.

"One of the personal homes that I went to, the little boy would wet the bed. He just did it continually," Elliott said. "So when I went there, he came up and sat on my lap, and I said, 'How are you getting along?' 'I get along good,' the boy responded. 'Do you get up and go to the bathroom at night?,' I asked him. 'No,' he said. Then I said, 'Well, you know, you should.' And I talked to him about it and the mother told me later that he never wet the bed again after that.

"Kids are really smart, and they remember. If Santa Claus talks to you, you better listen. It's really amazing. You can do a lot of things as Santa Claus that will help the parents along the way, because little kids won't do what Santa Claus doesn't want them to do. Working with the parents really helps. I don't think a lot of the parents realize that it does as much, you know, if they would come and talk to you first or not. I think they think, 'Well, it's just one of them things,' and that's it. But kids are wonderful."

After those first three years where he portrayed Santa Claus almost everywhere in town, he kept at it over the years in such places as Main Street Market and the Kimball Banner County Chamber of Commerce.

In his many appearances, Elliott said he was not recognized by very many children while portraying Santa Claus - including his own children.

"My own kids didn't even recognize me," he said. "Some of the kids evidently, I don't know how, they just paid more attention to my actions and what have you when I was not Santa Claus, and when I was Santa Claus, I had a lot of the same actions. They just kind of put two and two together. But not very many of them recognized me."

"There was a lot of the parents that knew. As far as I know, there were two youngsters that knew. I kind of told them that Santa Claus couldn't be every place at one time and he needed help, and I was called to help. So they accepted that," he added.

Although Elliott, who will turn 80 in February, has portrayed Santa for well over half his life, he said that this year will probably be his last.

"I kind of have an idea that this year will probably be the last year I'll play Santa. Not because I don't want to necessarily, but my hearing isn't that good," he said. "You get a little kid sitting on your lap, they talk so soft. You just can't hear them. I've got hearing aids, but I'm not satisfied with the way they're working."

Elliott said he kept doing it for so long because of the children and the smiles that it brings to their faces.

"I just love kids, and it's neat to be able to make them happy," he said. "They get excited at times with Santa Claus, and it's just a neat, neat thing. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. It's fantastic."

 

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