- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - His white ZZ-Top-style beard is real, and his jolly “ho, ho, ho” will give you goose bumps.

He has the ruddy complexion of a redhead and the belly of a happy, well-fed man.

After being raised by a professional Santa Claus, Richard Welliver knows where to get the best Santa suits and knows only amateurs wear fake beards.

“I decided that if I am going to do Santa Claus, it’s going to be real,” the 67-year-old retired civil servant and RV park owner said.

Welliver, who owns the North Moosed RV Park and Campground in Fox, does volunteer and paid gigs. He spreads holiday cheer at private and public functions in Fairbanks and North Pole throughout the year.

Welliver’s calling came in 2005 after the death of his father, who spread the Christmas spirit in nursing homes and department stores in south central Pennsylvania for decades. Welliver said his father was even known to don roller skates in his Santa suit.

His mother passed down the family Santa suit, and “it just came natural to me,” Welliver said. By then, Welliver’s beard had turned from red to blonde to white.

He has been featured on the Travel Channel and in the York Daily Record, a newspaper in Pennsylvania.

Welliver is the backup Santa for the Santa Claus House, and he is the official Santa Claus for the Hotel North Pole. The hotel offers the Santa Claus suite complete with a Christmas tree, fireplace and a visit from old St. Nick.

Welliver also is Santa Claus for Christmas In Ice where he’ll make an appearance on Christmas Day.

Marilyn Fry is one of the organizers of Christmas In Ice, located next to the Santa Claus House in North Pole.

She said Santa makes an appearance at the North Pole ice park on Christmas Day every year. Admission to the park is free on Christmas Day. Santa will be there from 1-5 p.m.

“It’s our annual tradition,” Fry said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to say thank you to Santa for the gifts. It’s a very nice thing for the military families who don’t have family nearby to visit. It’s certainly an opportunity to get on the webcam and call your family. Maybe Santa will get on the phone and say hi.”

Welliver, a former U.S. Navy submariner, is originally from Pennsylvania.

He dreamed of visiting Alaska for years and finally crossed the border from Canada in a BMW F650 motorcycle in 2005. By the time he arrived in Fairbanks, he knew Alaska would be his next home.

Welliver spent the next few years attending the World Ice Art Championships and moved here for good in 2009.

By then, he had been booking volunteer and paid Santa gigs for awhile.

“I started off just doing things with family that first year,” Welliver said. “It just went from there to going to some select places. I do a lot of volunteering.”

Once, a 102-year-old woman sat on Welliver’s lap.

If someone feels shy, Welliver doesn’t push it.

“I just say, ‘OK. Maybe next year,’” he said. “Being approachable is what you want to be.”

His custom-made red wool suit is lined with satin and trimmed with fox fur. Welliver uses the same tailor in Albany, New York, that his father used. His father’s suit is one of the original Santa suits the company made after starting in the 1930s.

Welliver said that while his father would work at department stores, sitting for photographs, he prefers venues where he can move around.

“I would rather get out and interact with people instead of sitting in one place.”

Spreading the magic of Chistmas has been rewarding for Welliver.

“Sometimes, you will have children who don’t believe and then all of a sudden they do,” he said. “It’s really fun to watch not just children but people in general enjoy Christmas.”


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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