One on one with Santa

Several local kids say, ‘Yep, he’s real’

Photo submitted by Rocky Harpold Rocky Harpold has been an area Santa for about 20 years.

Once the calendar turns to December, Santa Claus is often too busy preparing toys and gifts at the North Pole to meet every little boy and girl around the world.

Luckily, he has Santa surrogates like Rocky Harpold, of Belpre, who fill in, making appearances, taking wish lists from children and spreading seasonal magic.

“He’s an exceptional Santa,” said Rod Brower, pastor of Belpre Heights United Methodist Church, where Harpold often visits. “He takes on the full persona.”

Harpold, 63, has been Santa’s helper for close to 20 years, typically taking part in about 10 events throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley leading up to Christmas.

Question: How did you first get started as Santa?

Answer: It really started with my grandkids. And then they needed a Santa at the firehouse in Belpre and they asked me. I bought a suit from (J.C.) Penney’s and became Santa.

Q: How long does it take to get into all the Santa gear? What does it entail?

A: About 45 minutes. I have to do the beard and all. I have leather bunker boots from the fire department and I have to put fur around them and then tuck my pants in. I’m heavy anyway but I have a stuffed belly that I add. Then I do makeup–rouge on my cheeks and white on my eyebrows. My wife helps me a lot and she has a Mrs. Claus outfit that she wears.

Q: Have you ever had any unusual gift requests from kids?

A: A snake. I had a little girl who really wanted a corn snake. She was probably about 7. I thought “Not from this Santa.”

Q: Do you ever have kids who are scared of you?

A: Oh, yeah. That’s where Mrs. Claus comes in. They sit on her lap and I talk to them from there. This year, I had an 8-year-old boy run from me at the VFW. He left the building, just took off.

Q: Do they make you laugh a lot?

A: Yes, you’d be surprised with some of the stuff they come up with. I’ll ask if they’ve been good and they’ll say “Yeah, but mom and dad fight a lot.” They tell all the secrets.

Q: I heard you’re such a believable Santa that when they were really little your grandchildren didn’t even recognize you. Is that true?

A: Yes. And even last year, my granddaughter who is 10 and in the middle of believing and not believing watched me set up and get dressed and she said she couldn’t tell me from the real one.

Q: Have you ever had kids accuse you of not being the real Santa?

A: I never have. I’ve had several kids who come up and say I look like the real one, look at the boots and say “Yep, he’s real.”

Q: What’s it feel like to be part of Christmas in this way for so many kids?

A: It feels great. I get all the credit for the gifts that mom and dad get. I get to see them smile up at me while they’re sitting on my lap…it’s just a good feeling. It’s a shame it can’t last all year.

Kate York conducted this interview.