The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
December 2004
FEATURE
 
 

Here Comes Santa Claus
VVA's Bob Baker
 

BY JIM BELSHAW

It started as a kind of holiday harmonic convergence. All the pieces came together, all the Christmas stars aligned in the right position—the request for a Santa, the suit that fit, the trip to Las Vegas (where Santa never has to stand in line at restaurants), the hair, the beard, the “natural padding.” 

Everything came together at the right time. Everybody loved Santa. Everybody.

“We just came back from a 14-day cruise,” VVA member Bob Baker said in a recent interview. “Even the hookers down in Panama called me Santa. They all wanted to touch my beard.”

Baker has been Santa for six years now in Schulenburg, Texas. It all began in Houston in 1998, when a friend from the Kingwood Country Club was in the market for a jolly big man in a red suit.

“They didn’t have a Santa and asked if I’d do it,” Bob said. “I said, ‘Sure.’”

His wife, Bonnie, thought he’d be a natural.

“His hair had turned white, his beard had turned white, and he looked like Santa,” she said.

“My friend who worked at the country club had been a fake Santa the year before and Bob looked so much better. He had his own hair and his own padding.”

A note on padding: Bob Baker weighs 300 pounds.

The country club agreed to rent the suit for him. So the Bakers set off in search of one. As these kinds of things sometime go, fate intervened. They looked all over downtown Houston and didn’t find anything, but on the way home, they stopped at Party City, a kind of department store dedicated to your every holiday need, including Santa suits.

They found one that fit. They decided not to rent it. They bought it.

“We found it accidentally,” Bonnie said. “We just happened to stop at Party City, and it had a Santa suit in Santa’s size.”

The suit cost $300.

“Why buy it?” Bob said. “Well, I thought, ‘What the heck, I can wear it to Bonnie’s Christmas party, and I can wear it other places. Let’s just buy it and be done with it.’ I thought I might do Santa again next year, anyway.”

The country club appearance went well. The kids loved him. And then there was Las Vegas the next week.

Bob’s son worked at a restaurant in Vegas. The Bakers went to visit. They brought the suit. The employees were having a Christmas party for their kids.

Would he mind doing Santa again? No problem.

Bob wore the suit in downtown Vegas, too. People loved it. He didn’t have to stand in line at restaurants. Casinos came to a stop when Santa walked in, and orchestras played “Here Comes Santa Claus.” One casino made him part of the show starring David Cassidy.

They got invited to a Christmas party one year, and Bonnie didn’t have anything to wear. So they bought her a Mrs. Claus suit.

When her 80-year-old father got married, they got elf suits, and everybody went downtown to Fremont Street and had a Christmas ball.

“I like going to Fremont Street when they’re doing the light show,” Bob said. “The kids will be standing there with their parents, and they’ll be trying to get their parents to look at Santa. The parents will be telling them to watch the show. I like doing that.”

Bonnie says it’s always a good time when they’re going somewhere in the car. She enjoys the looks on kids’ faces when they pull up at a stop sign, look over, and see Santa Claus in the next car.

When they moved to Schulenburg, Bob found there were no nearby VVA chapters. He solved that problem by starting more than 15 chapters, including Chapter 870 in Schulenburg. He was the recipient of the Chapel of Four Chaplains 2004 Humanitarian Award. Wanting to do something for the local kids for Christmas, the chapter invited residents and businesses to get involved.

“We got candy canes from Wal-Mart, and local people gave apples and oranges and clothes and things,” Bob said. “We had a parade with the Chamber of Commerce. They built a gazebo downtown and the kids had their pictures taken with Santa Claus.”

With each passing year, the parade grew. This Christmas they hope for 18 floats with a band, decorated cars, and other participants. Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive in a wagon pulled by massive white Clydesdale horses.

“Lighted parades are popular around here,” said Bonnie, who is an AVVA life member. “All the vehicles have to have lights on their floats. I volunteer at the Chamber of Commerce. The first year, the Chamber organized the parade and the Vietnam vets were the volunteers. Last year, they were equal partners, and this year the vets will be in charge.”

Bob sees himself and Santa together for a long time. He has three suits now. “You can’t have just one suit,” he says. He’s thinking about getting a Father Christmas suit, too—a big white robe with a hood.

No matter the suit, he enjoys the effect.

“I enjoy seeing the kids’ eyes light up,” he said.

   

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