GREENVILLE — He’s got the beard, he’s got the build. Most importantly for volunteer “Santa,” a.k.a., Roger Ferris, he’s got the desire to bring a little holiday cheer into the lives of area seniors.
For the past few years, the Greenville area resident has donated his time to visit with seniors at Metron and Green Acres adult care facilities. With his bushy white beard helping him make him one of West Michigan’s most convincing Jolly Ol’ St. Nick, Ferris has seen demand for his services increase each holiday season since he first donned the red suit five years ago.
“The first time I played Santa it was because a friend from down the road, Rose Henry, called to ask how I’d feel about being Santa at a family function,” Ferris explained. “I told her I had no outfit, but she had one, which turned out to be a little tight on me.”
Ferris’ wife, Linda, a talented artist and seamstress, volunteered to craft an “official” Santa suit for him. Each ensuing year has seen improvements to that suit, with new boots being the most recent addition.
“There’s a Santa Claus store online where you can get official Santa gear,” Ferris said. “It’s called Planet Santa.”
Roger’s first Santa appearance went so well that, from that point on, he was hooked. In addition to his appearances at Metron and Green Acres — which are coordinated through the First Church of God in Greenville — Ferris also plays Santa at several family Christmas parties, area restaurants and the Maple Valley Inn in Trufant.
“I love doing it for the kids,” Ferris said. “The kids are great. But the old folks are actually more appreciative. They really enjoy it; they’re thrilled. I just got a big box of candy canes for this year’s visits. I go around and wish them all a Merry Christmas and they love it.”
Being a Santa isn’t all tinsel and mistletoe, however. The job does come with its own set of risks.
“The young boys like to pull my beard sometimes,” Ferris said. “And last year, I scared the bejeebees out of this one little tyke and he peed all over my lap. That was the first time that ever happened.”
The joys of playing the world’s best loved delivery man more than make up for the occasional mishaps, however, and Ferris gets better at the job with each passing season. He’s even considering attending “Santa School” next year in Bay City, where they teach the “do’s and don’ts” of playing St. Nick.
For now, though, Ferris simply continues to go with — excuse the pun — his gut.
The trick to playing Santa, Ferris said, is to not hang around the venue too long, especially with children, keeping the allure of a busy Santa needing to go back to the North Pole to keep his shop going to make the Christmas deadline.
“I always tell the kids my reindeer are waiting to be fed and I’m a little worried about them,” he said.
Ferris is available to play Santa for family gatherings throughout the Greenville area. For private engagements, he charges a small fee to cover gas and expenses. For more information, call (616) 984-2566.
Young at Heart is a bi-monthly publication focused on local community events and active people ages 50 and older. To submit story ideas or photos to this feature section, contact Features Editor Ryan Schlehuber at (616) 788-4478 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.