What Would Santa Do?
Local Kris Kringle Delights Children & Adults
Santa Claus came to town early this Christmas at Northpark Mall. Nestled behind a white picket fence with decorative snow and holly berries, he has occupied a painted cathedra chair every weekend since mid-November. Presents wrapped in shiny foil reflect the wide-eyed stares of children already enchanted by the magic of the season.
“Have you been good this year?”
A 6-year-old nods solemnly. As her parents listen closely, she mentions a few selections that she’d love to discover under the tree. The usual array of Barbie dolls and board games top her list, then she has her photo taken with the man in the red suit whom she believes to be the real Santa, the authentic one complete with beard, boots and red suit. He gives the first-grader a coloring book and she scurries back to her parents, newly excited at the prospect of his Christmas Eve visit. More than 1,500 children annually visit the mall’s Santa spot.
Roger Kreke is as close to embodying the spirit of St. Nick as possible without taking up residence in the North Pole. The Edmond native bears a striking resemblance to the traditional Kris Kringle and he’s been playing the part for 30 years. Private parties and charity appearances also keep him busy this time of year, and he never tires of delighting children and adults alike with a practiced “Ho, Ho, Ho!” His visit is sponsored by the Northwest Oklahoma City Rotary Club.
Frequently mistaken in public places throughout the year for Santa, Kreke’s role keeps him optimistic and reinforces his role model status in the community. Friends and co-workers teasingly remind him that Santa Claus is perpetually benevolent, and he thinks twice about proving them otherwise. “I always think, ‘What would Santa do?’ It makes me have to be good all the time,” Kreke said with a laugh.
Playing Santa has been a family affair for the Krekes. Daughter Carrie formerly accompanied Kreke as an elf, a character she relinquished with the advent of high school. Kreke’s mother Louise sewed the crush velvet costume with the help of her daughter-in-law Freida, and each contributed their ideas of what Santa would wear.
Although Kreke has been the Rotary Club’s Santa for the past four Christmases, he was forced to take a break last year due to extended complications of the cancer that had invaded his lymph nodes. Physically exhausted after intensive rounds of chemotherapy, Kreke also lamented the loss of his facial hair. He donned the homemade red suit and a synthetic beard, but was quickly discouraged by accusations of not being the “real” Santa from those who could tell the difference. Substitutes filled in when necessary, but Kreke decided to alter his course of treatment in preparation for this year’s efforts. In June he requested the chemotherapy to be suspended until January to give his beard a chance to grow back, and he’s currently undergoing alternative radiation.
Northpark Mall announces Kreke’s presence as “the only non-profit Santa in the Oklahoma City area” on festive flyers that advertise $5 snapshots. All profits support the Rotary Club as its only annual fundraiser. A digital camera and specialized printer allow for multiple shots from which parents can choose, an ideal method suited to photographing little ones who squirm as the camera clicks.
The Rotary Club sponsors Kreke with private donations and the money collected, as well as a Special Santa and a Sign Language Santa for developmentally challenged children. Most known for its original part in the eradication of polio, Rotary is active in 166 countries worldwide and funds health care projects like the purchase of an ambulance in Palani, India, and the coverage of an Oklahoma ophthalmologist’s travel fees as he performs free eye surgeries throughout South America. The Rotary Club works locally to organize events for underprivileged youth through activities such as summer sailing at Lake Hefner and the donation of library books to KIPP Charter School.
Regional Rotary Club president Michelle Schaefer volunteers at Northpark Mall to help with the photo process and guide shy children to Santa. She invites the people of Edmond and Oklahoma City to celebrate the holiday season by seeing Santa, but also to drop by their North May location for a free informative lunch on Tuesdays at noon in the McMurrain Center housed by the annex of the Village Baptist Church. For more information about Rotary Club participation in your area, visit http://www.nwokcrotary.org.
When questioned about the meaning of Christmas, Kreke said with a smile: “Santa lives in your heart. You’re never too old for (him) as long as you believe in the good stuff in the world.”
Between Kreke’s commitment and the goodwill of the association that hosts him, the old-fashioned charm of Santa Claus will continue as a timeless legend that only requires children to believe.
Santa Claus will be available to hear Christmas wishes at Northpark Mall, 12100 N. May, on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. He’ll put in extra hours the week of Christmas, Monday, Dec. 19, until 3:30 Christmas Eve.