Growing up believing in Santa Claus meant that I pondered certain questions begged by his actions. Why did Santa use the same wrapping paper for my presents that my mom did for my cousins’? Did they buy it at the same Boy Scouts fundraiser? How could my grandpa always hear Santa’s sleigh bells on Christmas Eve, even though I never did? (It’s fortunate that he could, though, because I’d always go to bed as soon as he told me. Santa can’t work if you’re awake.) If Santa rewarded good children and snubbed bad ones, why then did James Laughlin get Sonic & Knuckles for the Sega Genesis for Christmas while I only received an easel, even though he pushed me off the slide one time during recess? Could I really have been that much worse than James Laughlin?Real devotees of the Jolly Old Saint never let such quandaries bog them down. There is always an explanation. Of course Santa would support the Boy Scouts. Of course an old man would have had more practice hearing things than a little boy would have. I got revenge on James Laughlin by letting him take the rap when I pushed Jessica Lamb off the slide one time during recess, too. And that tired point kids make about the ubiquitous Santas you see around the holidays not being the real guy? Of course they aren’t the real guy — they’re Santa’s helpers, doing his work for him on the street while Santa himself tends to the more important job of teaching elves how to make Sega Genesis games.
One such local deputy is Santa Randy, and few men are better qualified to make Father Christmas’ appearances for him. Santa Randy is a member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, the Royal Order of Santa Claus, the National Santa Claus Registry, and the Minnesota Santas. A four-star general once even made Santa Randy an “Honorary Marine of the North Pole.” At 6’2”, 250 pounds (plus belly), and with his registered beard (#1766), Santa Randy is the genuine article.
“You don’t choose to be Santa. It chooses you,” said Randy Gabrelcik of Mound when I asked him why he decided to start portraying the saint. Randy’s love for Santa came about when he was a little boy. A family friend in full Santa regalia used to visit Randy’s family of 12 at their farm home every Christmas. Randy didn’t receive very many presents on those mornings, but just meeting the big man in person made him elated every year. Randy first put on the red suit himself 13 years ago when his hair went gray. He looked so thoroughly the part that people couldn’t help but ask him to play Santa. (I empathize — people often ask me to portray a young Marlon Brando.)
“When you ask kids what they want for Christmas, you can kind of tell where they’re coming from,” explained Randy on the subject of toy requests. “Kids from more affluent families, they don’t always know what to say. They already have everything. But the ones from the other side, they ask for some surprising things. One time, at a public event I attended, a little girl asked me for a kitchen table. Why a kitchen table, I asked her? ‘To do my homework on,’ she said. Ah. I talked with the town to see if we could help her with that. I never promise to bring specific presents with during Santa’s Christmas delivery, because I don’t want to put parents in a spot.”
“Kids of all ages appreciate Santa. The youngest kid I met with was four days old. He didn’t want any toys. The oldest kid I ever met with was 102 years old. She didn’t want anything either. Just to meet with Santa, was all.”
“I go to a lot of nursing homes and senior centers every year. At one, it wasn’t too much different from the others. I met with the thirty or so people who lived there, saw how they were doing, got some smiles. As I was leaving, one of the nurses told me something. She said ‘You know, most of the people in here don’t even remember their own names. But they all remember who you are.’ I always treated my mission with a little more respect after hearing that. Santa Claus means a lot to people.”
Randy lost two fingers during a farming accident when he was four years old. Although most people don’t notice through Randy’s white gloves, this can present unusually observant children with a rather pressing question when they meet him. “If the little ones ask me what happened to my fingers,” said Randy, “I tell them that I didn’t listen to my mother and went out in the North Pole without gloves on. They listen to their mothers more often after they hear that. I sometimes tell the older ones that Rudolph bit them off, and that his nose became red when my blood got on him. There’s no real lesson in that story, it’s just to break the ice with teenagers and engage them in the spirit of Christmas.”
Randy is more dedicated than your average Santa. He wears Christmas colors all year long, and he never leaves home without a pouch full of candy for the little kids who recognize him in public. Most impressively, Randy runs Gabrelcik Enterprises, Inc., a concrete poured wall company that builds new homes and the very chimneys Santa uses. If that’s not commitment to the Claus cause, what is?
Santa Randy’s specialty is making house calls. Upon request, he will bring his authentic wood bound naughty or nice book to children’s homes, complete with details on their past year to ask them about. It’s a great way to make them believe and to find out what they’d like for Christmas at the same time. Santa Randy adores visiting military families, particularly ones with a deployed parent, and has a special military-style Santa suit for just such occasions.
You can learn more about Santa Randy’s very special work at santarandy.com. You can see more about his day job at gabrelcikenterprises.com, too. Randy is a true Renaissance man whose work covers all areas: the abstract, represented by love, charity, kindness, and benefaction, and the concrete, represented by concrete.
By David Scheller