The Santa Claus
By James Donahue
His real name was Donald Cramer. He lived in the little community of Peck, Michigan, located about
100 miles north of Detroit in the heart of Sanilac County where I was working as a bureau news reporter.
Don was the father of a large family and it was obvious that he really liked children. He was a stocky,
somewhat stocky man was a retired General Motors employee. He was active on various civic and government boards. One year
Don was hired by the Chamber of Commerce to play Santa Claus on the weekends. I think he used a false white beard for the
role that first season. They set him up in a little portable building in Sandusky, the county seat, in the large open yard
in front of the courthouse.
He got such a kick out of being Santa Claus that season, Don grew a full white beard and he returned
the next year wearing the classic tiny steel-rimmed glasses which made him really look like the Norman Rockwell version of
the real thing. I think the children thought he was the real thing.
After I took pictures and wrote his story, Don was suddenly propelled to area stardom. He started
getting invited to appear as Santa Claus for all kinds of local seasonal events.
After riding in various local Christmas parades and doing his routine in parties that next year, it
seems that Don began to perceive himself as the real Santa. Mr. Cramer made himself into a year-around Santa Claus. He showed
up everywhere dressed in red pants and suspenders even during the summer months. He even bought a red car and had a Santa
Claus logo painted on the side of it.
Don virtually turned himself into Santa Claus. It was amazing how much publicity he gained as the
word got out. By the next year the Detroit newspapers and television stations were publicizing Sanilac County’s Santa
I don’t think I ever saw anybody get so wrapped up in playing the role of that Christmas character
as Don Cramer.
Because I was reporting on county government, I personally knew Don Cramer before and during his Santa
Claus years. He was the perfect person to fill that role. Mr. Cramer was among the kindest and most cheerful people I have
known and I think he deserved all of the fame his Santa Claus role gave him.
In return, Don succeeded in putting smiles on the faces of a lot of children and even the adults who
crossed his path.
Donald F. "Santa" Cramer died in June, 2011, at the age of 79. This is my personal little tribute
to a man who used his skills to be a virtual Santa and touch the lives of so many people.