Helpers on the Hill
BY VICTOR R. PISANO
Santa’s Helpers all over America are in full force this holiday season.
Richmond Hill is no exception. There are at least a half dozen Santa’s Helpers in the Richmond Hill area who again eagerly line up to assist their boss at the North Pole in delivering Christmas spirit. Richmond Hill’s Santa’s Helpers are dedicated men within a fraternal order who live the image of Santa Claus, some of them year-round. These local Helpers enthusiastically represent Santa and his likeness and spirit every Christmas season. They are often accompanied by “Mrs. Santa” in their efforts to spread Christmas cheer throughout Bryan County and beyond.
John Williams, who came to the Hill in 1966, was the first Santa’s Helper in the area, appearing standing on the back of a firetruck just for townsfolk to wave to. He later commandeered that same truck and assumed a more traditional role as Santa in the town’s annual Christmas parade. Santa John, a retired railroad manager of 43 years, still enjoys his annual stints portraying the “Jolly Ol’ Elf” for children and grown-ups where for his neighborhood. Santa John also has future plans, “I’m a Shriner, and have a deep desire to bring my Santa to local children’s hospitals – if I can keep my heart from breaking.”
Another local Santa’s Helper works with children all day long, regardless. Michael Mosier is a teacher, middle school soccer coach, and even a part-time bus driver for the Bryan County School System. His natural full salt-and-pepper beard is not yet “snowy white,” but Santa Mike is seriously thinking of making the complete transformation. The full regalia of a Santa’s Helper in character demands a beard of “snowy” significance and Santa Mike sees himself growing into that insignia as he gets older.
Duane Carlton has been a Santa’s Helper for the last five years. Santa Duane, a retired Army veteran of 22 years, already truly looks the part with a genuine full white beard, a button nose, small round bi-spectacles, and a cheery “Ho-Ho-Ho” disposition. It also helps that his favorite shirt color is “red.” Santa Duane is usually booked through word-of-mouth and call-backs. During last year’s Christmas lockdown, he made many charitable appearances to hospitals and private homes. He explained, with a twinkle of course, that he did this, “Just to keep Santa’s spirit alive for these locked down kids – and their parents too.”
One could clearly say that Everrett Prostrollo is a full-time Santa’s Helper – 24/7/365. He is a retired Air Force veteran of 20 years who moved on to become a camp ranger. The next natural step in his mind was to be a Santa’s Helper – he looked the part. Santa Everrett personifies the mission and the dedication it takes to live the life of a Santa’s Helper – full-time. He is booked several months in advance for the season at malls, corporate venues, private parties, nursing homes, and magazine ads. Santa Everrett has custom-fitted Santa suits and has even attended the North-Light Santa Academy in Atlanta.
These dedicated gentlemen are not alone. You can find at least a half-dozen other Santa’s Helpers between here and downtown Macon. It’s a true calling. And in these times of tested traditions, Santa’s Helpers are leading a valiant crusade in keeping a cherished custom alive.
Each Christmas season, they get to experience what is true in this world, and that truth comes out of the mouths of babes. Most of the requests made to Santa’s Helpers are to be expected, some comical, many of them wrenching and the Helpers must be equipped to respond to a child’s Christmas list with patience, thoughtfulness, honesty, and especially caring.
When we sat down with our local Santa’s Helpers, they each came to life “in character” while reflecting on their work in helping Santa. There was a camaraderie immediately felt in the group – not a hint of competitiveness or one-upmanship – just a sharing of their stories.
For skeptical kids who start out by declaring, “You’re not the real Santa,” Santa Duane has the perfect retort, “All Santa’s Helpers look like the real Santa and we get to talk to Santa every day. I do. So, have you been good?” This always elicits a nod of “Yes.” Santa Everrett concurs, “I say to them that Santa is real in here (Pointing to his heart). I get to be his Helper and to look just like him.”
Undoubtedly, being a Santa’s Helper brings with it a huge responsibility when sitting with children who have special needs, emotional issues, or who are from broken homes. Santa Mike chimes in with, “In the end, it’s our responsibility to give them all hope.”
One of the most common questions kids ask is, “If I’m at my grandma’s house, can you still find me?” And of course, the answer is always, “Yes.” “And the kids put all sorts of things on their Christmas list for Santa,” said Santa Mike. “One child asked for a parrot, and another wanted a new dog because his dog had just died. Some want electronics, and I see their parents catching my eye saying ‘No!’ So, I tell them Santa’s elves don’t know how to make electronics.” A funny moment came for Santa Everrett when a little girl sat on his lap looking frustrated, He asked her, “And where have you been?” To which she replied, “I’ve been everywhere, Santa! Looking for you – all day!”
Santa Duane quietly then added an endearing episode, “I had a child ask Santa for a brand-new kidney and that humbled my heart immediately. You have to care – they can see it. You have to know that caring is who Santa is.” All of Santa’s Helpers nodded in support.
Of course, not all goes smoothly during a Santa’s Helper seating. More than once, Helpers quietly try to ignore the inevitable – accidents. “This little girl was waiting in line for a long time,” says, Santa John, “and when she finally got to sit on Santa’s lap, she was so nervous, she had an accident of the bladder. My boots got wet. Neither she nor I let on.” Now that’s what the real Santa would have done and what a true Helper would do in the line of duty.
Richmond Hill and neighboring stretches are endowed with some very talented and dedicated Santa’s Helpers who eagerly serve this community and the children within it – children of all ages. They keep the spirit of Christmas alive in their hearts and in their character. They truly believe in Santa Claus – and they’re big people too.