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'Are you Santa?': Being white-bearded at Christmas

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:57 PM

Santa Claus is known by many names: St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Frank, Kurt and David. Huh? Read on.

Frank Young of Spring Hill is a no-nonsense type of guy. He's not a bah-humbug kind of guy, but this Kentucky native tells it like it is.

Sitting in his screened-in patio with a view of the swimming pool in sight, Young confessed, "It's sort of tough this time of year when you look sort of like Santa Claus."

Referring to himself, Young, 63, is among many men who have chosen not to shave every day. In Young's case, it's just been a trim for the past 20 years. For Young and many others, their likeness to Jolly Ol' St. Nick is inevitable.

"When I got out of the Marine Corp, I didn't shave. I had no one to impress anymore," he said.

Eventually Young's hair became white, hence the "Santa-look."

He pointed out some of the setbacks of "looking sort of like Santa Claus."

Go shopping with him, especially this time of year and you'll see exactly what he's talking about. In Walmart, for instance, while headed down one of the aisles.

Young cites a prime example: A child tugs on her mom's sleeve and whispers, "There's Santa."

"You could see it in their eyes. Their wide eyes light up." Young said.

"The kids see you and they run up to you and ask, "Are you Santa Claus?" Young asked, What can you do?

You look down at the child. You look up toward the parents.

"Some cautious parents may not view you as Santa," he said. "But children run off from their parents when they see Santa coming."

Young came up with a saving strategy.

"I just tell them, 'No, I'm not Santa Claus, but I do know him.'"

Still there were those times, Young said, he found himself deflecting young children back to their parents and he felt bad about that.

"Looking like Santa is a blessing and a curse," Young said. "I really don't think it would be right to tell the children that you are Santa Claus."

Besides, he said, there are days after a trip to the Tampa V.A. when I come home, "I look more like ZZ Top."

* * * * *

Santa lookalike Kurt Petty of Spring Hill sees it differently.

Petty, 67, a Minnesota native said he and his girlfriend Ellie went to Aruba for a vacation two months ago.

One day, while walking barefoot along the beach, they came up on a family walking toward them in the opposite direction.

"It was a mom and a dad and a little girl, I guess about 6 years old," Petty said. "As they approached, the girl stopped them, looking up and asked if I was Santa Claus."

Petty was spontaneous and just went along with it. He said, "yes," he was Santa Claus.

He hit her with the traditional Santa questions: "Have you been good? Have you been naughty or nice?"

"She just looked at me and told me, 'Yeah, she's been good and all that,'" he said.

But leave it to a six-year-old.

Petty said after the girl answered his questions, she began to grill him. She wanted to know what he was doing there, he said. After all, Petty was standing there with someone who obviously didn't look like Mrs. Claus and they were both wearing bathing suits.

Petty was speechless at first. With a quick retort, Petty told the girl, "Well, I'm just like everybody else. I got go to take a vacation before I go to work in December."

Petty laughed as the conversation snowballed.

"It was quite humorous," he said.

While Aruba is a long way from the North Pole, back home in Spring Hill, Petty said he's been shopping at Walmart and noticed that kids — especially 2- and 3-year-olds — "just stare and stare. I wave to them and they get a big grin and will wave back."

"I have more adults saying to me that I look like Santa Claus than the kids. It's funny," he said.

Petty has worn a beard his whole life since his shaving days began. While the beard he's growing now is only a year old, he said at one time in his life, he had a beard "down to his belt."

He limits the number of times he plays Santa Claus, but said "he's got a full-scale Santa suit; the whole nine yards."

This year Petty will portray Santa Claus for his girlfriend's grandchildren.

"We'll show up there Christmas Eve with the presents and everything" he said with a smile.

* * * * *

David Werder would have no problem guiding a sleigh or delivering gifts to chimney tops. He's used to heights.

He once sat atop a 30-foot flagpole where he spent 439 days, 11 hours and six minutes protesting the price of a gallon of gasoline. According to the 57-year old New Jersey native's website, it was a time when gas went outrageously over $1.20 a gallon in the 1980s.

Although he started wearing a beard in 1976, "It was after that flagpole sitting that probably turned me white," he said with a laugh.

A Spring Hill resident and former Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Werder has a likeness to the character Kris Kringle that was portrayed by Edmund Gwenn in the classic 1947 holiday movie, "Miracle on 34th Street."

Werder, like Gwenn as Kringle, both don derby hats and have a trimmed version of their Santa beards. The question of mistaken identity is clear.

"I overhear children in the stores say, 'There's Santa! There's Santa!'"

Werder said he's been tapped by parents who use his likeness to help keep unruly children behaved in the grocery store.

The parents will see him and say to the child, "You see? You never know where Santa is. He's gonna remember that for Christmas."

This time of year, Werder makes it a point to stay out of stores during the holiday season, and when he must shop it's at 4 a.m.

But Werder said the Santa-look has its benefits. The ladies like it and say "Oh, you look just like Santa Claus."

Werder who is single can only laugh. "What's not to like?"

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