Exclusive interview: Peninsula’s Santa spreads cheer from kid events to AA meetings

Santa Claus’ strait-blue eyes have seen a lot in the last little while.

This Santa has Diamond Point as his home base, and travels from there to Port Angeles to Sequim to Port Townsend and back —where he has encountered entirely too many people walking down streets, looking sad.

The rotund one also found less-than-cheerful people at restaurants, stores, offices and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Yet at all of these stops, Claus changes things.

Those dejected pedestrians, as well as the other people in his path, tend to perk up when he jingles his bells and belted out, “Merry Christmas!” as only he can.

“They respond back,” with a smile, even a giggle, Claus said in an interview this week.

When people lay eyes on this guy in the red suit and black comfortable shoes, they suddenly remember: Christmas is here, and it’s not just about shopping.

Claus, who is called Don McIntyre during the balance of the year, savored his 41st season as jolly old St. Nick this year.

He began his candy-cane-bestowing career as a U.S. Marine, an 18-year-old straight out of boot camp.

It was 1960 and his orders were to hand out Christmas presents at a Toys for Tots party.

He donned the military-issue white cotton beard and black boots, and has been Santa every December since.

A couple of years ago, he exchanged his boot-camp-issue boots for more comfortable walking shoes.

On the inside, though, not much else has changed.

All along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Claus visits coffee shops, retirement centers, child-care centers — and private homes with lots of cars outside.

He just knocks on the door, mixes a jingle and a “ho, ho, ho,” and time and again, the elf is made welcome.

He spends several hundred dollars on gasoline and candy canes — and is it ever worth it.

At the Sequim Community Church one day, he met a 102-year-old woman who had never had her picture taken with Santa.

“Where have you been?” he asked her.

They proceeded to have several photographs taken.

If he sees a clutch of people waiting at a bus stop, Claus pulls his white minivan over, greets them with gusto and gives them all candy canes.

When he meets a shy child, he doesn’t push it. Claus might show the youngster his wristwatch, which has colored lights on its face.

“This is how I can find your house on Christmas Eve,” he explains.

“They think it’s my GPS,” Claus said, adding that yes, even tots know about global positioning systems.

Then he encourages the child to look and see what’s in his big, red sack. There might be a stuffed dinosaur in there.

Claus also goes to lots parties, of course. People keep inviting him back.

But he also makes a point of making an altogether different scene: those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

His mission is the same as everywhere. He seeks to lighten people’s hearts.

And every once in a while, Claus crosses paths with someone at exactly the right time.

In Federal Way, where Claus used to live, he visited an AA meeting in the basement of his church.

As he walked in, another man was about to walk out.

“When he saw me, he backed up, went back in and sat down,” Claus recalled.

“You better be good,” Claus later told the man.

“Santa’s watching you.”

A year later, Claus saw the man again. After going back into the meeting that day, he’d continued attending AA, and had stayed sober.

He still had the candy cane Claus had given him in his glove box.

“I think about these guys a lot,” Claus said of the recovering alcoholics he’s met over the years.

“They’re really trying to put it together.”

At the same time, Claus knows some people don’t believe in Santa. They tell him so.

“That’s OK,” he said.

Claus will continue on his rounds, every Christmas, as long as his 6-foot-5 frame holds up.

“I’ve got about 20 years to run around,” he quipped, “until they take away my license.”

Claus doesn’t believe in very elderly people driving. But then, he’s only 71.

After a good four weeks of preparation — Claus’ travels around the Peninsula started Nov. 25 — he’s headed for a gathering of old friends in Auburn.

He used to run a rental shop in nearby Federal Way; there as here, he volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots drives every December.

The children he met earlier in his Santa service are now parents — moms and dads who of course want to share him with their own kids.

This year has been busy for Claus.

Regardless of the recession, people still want what he brings.

The candy canes are just a little something tangible, a symbol of Christmas cheer.

Spreading that around keeps him feeling good, season after season.

“It gets more fun every year,” Claus said.

“I always wonder: Am I going to be at the right place at the right time?

“I usually manage.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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