Gallery I
He Lived
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The Santa Claus

By James Donahue

The idea of dressing up and playing the role of Santa Claus probably came naturally to Donald Kramer. He was a stocky, elderly man with white hair, a big family and a good heart when I knew him. One year I was surprised when I took our young daughter Jennifer to visit Santa in an open booth set up in downtown Sandusky and recognized that it was Don hiding under the false beard and suit.

He played the role perfectly and the children loved Don. He had a way about him that did not frighten children. I think it was because Don had children of his own and really liked them. Children always know.

Kramer apparently liked that gig and returned the following year to play Santa again. That year he said he was invited to various private homes and parties to play Santa and discovered it was not only a way to pick up some extra money for the holidays, but he really liked being Santa.

By the next year, Don had his costume perfected. He had grown a real beard that was white and flowing, and found a set of old-fashioned steel rimmed glasses that made him look so authentic you would think he was really Santa Claus. I took his picture, did an interview and featured Don in a Christmas story for our newspaper.

I think it was my story that helped catapult Kramer to the fame that quickly came his way. After it appeared, he began getting invitations to make appearances at stores, parades and private parties throughout Southeast Michigan. His appearances extended beyond the Christmas season and we began seeing Don appearing in parades held in various towns all summer long. I think he even made a few Detroit television appearances.

Donald Kramer seemed to have transformed himself from the hard-working unknown guy struggling to provide for his family in the small town of Peck, Michigan, to Santa Claus. He kept his beard and glasses and even when he wasn’t in costume, he wore bright clothes and looked so much like Santa all of the time that he was recognized where ever he went. He even had the name Santa Claus painted on the side of his car.

I lost track of Don after I left the area. Unlike the mythical Santa Claus who lives on forever in the hears of children, he was getting up in years when he was enjoying his moments of fame and I am sure that eventually age or illness eventually got the best of him.

For a brief time, however, I was happy to know that one of my news stories helped springboard this man to a few years of popularity as what many children believed was the real Santa Claus.