Locals share importance of portraying Santa at Christmas

John "Red" Hall and his wife Judy have a visit with Adalynn Sisler, 3, of Woodstock before Christmas. Rich Cooley/Daily

Wayne Sealock of Front Royal stumbled into becoming a professional Santa Claus after a bit of trouble as a junior in high school.

“I went to the military high school here in town,” Sealock said. “Instead of marching for five hours straight with a rifle, I dressed up as Santa Claus for an hour.”

And he’s been doing it ever since.

So began Sealock’s humbling rise in the world as Santa Claus. Many of the origin stories for these Santas are similar to Sealock: filling a void left by a previous community member or a child telling them they look like jolly St. Nicholas. Gigs vary from volunteer work at local firehouses and nursing homes, to greeting town residents with candy canes to private events and parties.

Portraying Santa isn’t an easy job. It takes determination and a cool confidence. Putting on that jolly red suit is more than filling a big pair of black boots. It’s carrying on a holiday tradition dating back generations. It also helps to have a Mrs. Claus to keep Santa in line.

Sealock is a second generation Santa, following in the footsteps of his father. Front Royal residents typically recognize Sealock by his jolly laugh. From Black Friday on, Sealock puts on his traditional Santa suit, made by his wife, Sue, and greets tiny tots of all ages listening to their Christmas wants and wishes.

“I enjoy so much seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. Seeing the smiles on the elderly faces,” Sealock said. “It’s what Christmas is about.”

Sealock is one of many Warren County residents who portray Santa and his helpers on Christmas Eve. “I’ve been riding on top of the ladder truck at Station 1 for over 30 years,” Sealock said. This year he has passed the tradition on to his son. “I’m semi-retiring,” he said. But don’t fret, Sealock added, residents will still see him around town during the Christmas season.

“Even Santa needs to retire,” he said.

Over at the North Warren Volunteer Fire and Rescue station in Front Royal firefighters Mark Lantz and Jeanie Deem don their own Santa and Mrs. Claus uniforms for a special Christmas Eve tradition. Lantz, a firefighter with 23 years under his belt, has been playing Santa since 2002. While Deem, a firefighter with 10 years of experience, has been Mrs. Claus for the past six.

“It’s more rewarding than anyone will ever know,” Deem said. “When a little kid sees me sitting in a chair, their eyes just light up, “Lantz added. Both agree the experience pulls at their heartstrings.

Lantz portrays North Warren’s Santa during their annual ‘Breakfast with Santa’ event. He also gets out into the community where he knows Santa makes a difference for the less fortunate. Lantz recalled helping a single mother with two children celebrate Christmas by delivering presents to their home. It was a simple gesture but Lantz said emotionally it was worth it “just to see those two kids happy.”

On Dec. 24 Deem will join Lantz for the time-honored tradition of Santa on a fire truck. “It’s one thing when they see Santa,” Deem said. “But when they see me, Mrs. Claus sitting next to him, they just jump and squeal with joy.”

Residents will know when Lantz and Deem have entered their neighborhoods. “People just honk their horns like crazy,” Deem said laughing. Look for North Warren’s Santa and Mrs. Claus Christmas Eve; they’ll be on the big fire truck passing out candy.

After their children joined the military, John and Judy Hall of Strasburg put on their Mr. and Mrs. Claus suits after a family friend told John he “really” looked like Santa, white beard and all. That was over 20 years ago.

Time has flown for the couple. “It doesn’t seem like its been that long, but I know it has been,” Judy said. Over the years John has gained a favorable reputation as Santa. So much so, town residents know him as the “Strasburg Santa.”

“I’m flattered,” John said. “But we do it for one reason,” he said. The children.

For a number of years the Halls have visited students with special needs in Woodstock where they have passed out stuffed animals. They also participate in many town events including the Strasburg and Mount Jackson Christmas parades. Santa and Mrs. Claus are often spotted at First Bank on West King Street and at local nursing homes.

Some of John’s most memorable Christmas wants from children have included chickens and pancakes. “This little girl sat on my lap and I asked her what she wanted from Santa,” John said. “She looked at me and said ‘one pancake”. “You never quite know what a child will ask for,” Judy added.

Children will stop Kermit Orndorff and ask him if he’s the real Santa. “From a block away a child will see me and instantly light up.”

The longtime Strasburg resident says it happens quite frequently. “I’ve been in Wal-Mart in July and children have stopped me and asked.” Orndorff said he tells the children he’s Santa’s helper. “Don’t want to spoil it,” he added.

Like the others, Orndorff dresses up as jolly Santa for the children. “Since retirement, I’ve had more time on my hands,” he said. Aside from dressing up for children, Orndorff puts on his suit for neighbors, the four-legged and sometimes “just because.”

A common thread that links all these individuals together is their love for their community. “When you see a person, regardless of age become excited to see you dressed as Santa, you realize how important this role is,” Sealock said.

“It’s not just a holiday tradition,” Orndorff said. “It’s a big job. An important job,” he added. “It’s about providing love to the community and mankind.”