Catching up to Santa Claus for an interview can be a challenge, especially now when he’s busy getting ready for the holidays.
But Santa, who goes by a pseudonym when necessary, agreed with a right jolly “Yes” to answer a few questions about his very special visits. In Munster, Ind., he goes by the name “Jim Foster,” whose back story includes being a family man just this side of 50 with a wife, Kathy, and their five children, Jimmy 18, Tori, 17, Jack, 13, and twins Sydney and Hanna, 11.
Santa Jim explains everyone has to start somewhere, and he tells with a chuckle how he got his start in Munster. Jim was just a college kid, donning the sizable Santa suit as part of a Lewis University’s fraternity event for a local school for the disabled.
“One kid was uber-excited, jumping up and down and waving his arms as he charged forward to sit on Santa’s lap. Problem was, he was 21 years old, at least 6 feet 4 inches and weighed well over my 250 pounds. I was sitting on a metal folding chair and he jumped exuberantly onto my lap.”
Oh dear. “The chair folded like aluminum foil and down we went,” in a jumble of chair parts, legs and arms, with Jim trying to calm the young fellow who thought he’d just killed Santa.
The rest of the night went peaceably enough until Jim realized the earlier dust-up had broken Santa’s belt, so that he had to hold up his pants while sidling out of the room.
Discouraged? Hardly. “I was hooked.”
Since then, he’s dropped in on the Munster Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast for Santa for 17 years; this year will be only the second time he’ll miss it.
“Jim is fabulous with the children, even the timid ones. He gets them comfortable,” said Wendy Mis, executive director at the chamber.
“I always ask the kids if they have been naughty," Santa Jim said. "It’s hilarious to see the kids trying not to lie, because after all, I have the master list. I try to save them by saying, ‘It’s okay, let’s just try a little harder, okay?’ That always gets a good smile.”
Santa Jim naturally knows the names of many kids — even their parents — who approach him. Here’s his secret: He and Mrs. Claus, who in Munster goes by “Kathy Foster,” coach young kids’ sports teams and remember the names of many players. “Parents wouldn’t know it was me, but I’d know their names, their kids’ names. It’s always fun to keep them believing.”
Last year Santa Jim had another surprise up his roomy sleeve. At his workplace, Lake Mortgage Co. in Merrillville, co-worker Sue Stockman in loan servicing said they knew of Jim’s Santa role. But when Santa showed up handing out bonus envelopes, “Nobody knew (it was Jim); all we could hear was someone going “Ho, ho, ho,” real loud,” she laughs. “He was a really a good Santa.”
For Tammy and Bryan Paskewicz, close friends of the Fosters, it was a tradition to bring son Ethan to see Santa at Breakfast with Santa but never knowing who he was. When Jim helped Bryan bring in a Christmas tree and saw all the pictures of Ethan with Santa Claus through the years, he laughed. Tammy asked why. “That’s me!” Jim revealed.
“That’s how good Jim is — we never knew (until he told us),” said Tammy.
Since then Bryan and Tammy love to watch Ethan’s wonder as Santa says his name and asks questions only Santa could know. And for sister Erin, “The look on her face was, ‘He really does watch me!’ ”
“He really is Santa’ he does it without expecting accolades,” said Tammy. “He’s a very giving person. So is his wife.”
Kathy sewed the clothes for Santa and the Mrs. Claus for Breakfast with Santa.” It’s real hot underneath the beard, and little bitty kids pull on it.” But Santa understands. And, “I try to give the list back to the parents on the sly. An elf helps me with that.” Nancy Trimboli of Trimboli Chiropractic, then Karen Maravilla at El Taco Real have been faithful elves for years.
For his own kids, “I would change my voice for them, and it took a few years before they figured out that I was actually the Santa. Other kids, I try to help them along; I know they can be petrified. I’ll tell them to make a list and give it to their mom and she’ll give it to me. And I tell them I’m a big fan of cookies, and I always ask the kids to not forget the reindeer.”
Duly noted, Santa.