Spotlight: Don Galaway (dgal)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on December 19, 2011

This week, you will be enchanted by our Spotlight guest. He's famous the world over and is loved by everyone. He is magical, he's always jolly, and his favorite thing to do is to make children happy. It's Santa Claus. And he sometimes goes by the name of Don Galaway.

It is my most delightful honor to introduce you to Don Galaway. You'll recognize him, I'm sure. His appearance is unmistakeable. He is Santa Claus.

Santa Don was born and raised in the South Texas town of Alice, about forty miles west of Corpus Christi. He's married to an Alice girl as well. This past August, they celebrated their forty second year of marriage.

Their lives mainly revolve around family and church. They are members of the Cedar Bayou Church of Christ, where he serves as an elder. Don is retired from a thirty year career with the ExxonMobil Corp.

Here is what Don told me about himself....

 

I guess my claim to fame is that I am Santa. My Santa career began as the mall Santa for the San Jacinto Mall here in Baytown, Texas. What a beginning! I was flown in on a helicopter to the mall parking lot where several hundred children were awaiting me. I have also served as Santa for Picture People Photography Studios, Chick-Fil-A, Bass Pro Shop, as well as several other private studios, home and corporate parties and some charitable events. I am affiliated with Santa America, an organization which works with hospice children, autistic children and those with post traumatic stress syndrome. That part of my Santa activities is by far the most rewarding and often heart-wrenching.

We had two children; Phillip and Kristen. We have four grandchildren which are the joy of our lives. Sadly, we unexpectedly lost our son, Phillip about five years ago to a heart disease. That was a devastating time in our lives. However, our faith is strong and although we didn't understand it, we knew there was a reason and that some day we would understand it.

I am somewhat "musical." I sing and play several instruments including guitar, dulcimer, harmonica and I am presently trying to learn to play the banjo (emphasis on "trying"). I have learned that the banjo is a difficult instrument to learn to play, but I am making some progress.

Unfortunately, the economy has even hit Santa, diminishing his savings and I was recently forced to get a “real job,” so this season I am doing only a few Santa appearances. I truly miss it, but Santa has to eat, too.

 

I asked Don to share some Santa stories with me. His reply has kept a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart....plus a few tears in my eyes. Please read on.

 

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Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to keep a journal during my first season as Santa. Here are some excerpts from that journal:
 

"It all began just before Christmas of 2007. My daughter, a teacher’s aide in a special needs kindergarten class called me one evening, saying that Santa had come to their classroom and telling me how excited the kids were. Then, without realizing it at the time, she set into motion a chain of events that has changed my life dramatically, and hopefully, the lives of many others. She asked the fateful question, "Dad, as much as you love kids, why aren't you Santa?"

You see, I do love kids. I have been involved with kids in one way or another most of my adult life, most of which was connected with the youth groups in our church. Maybe it is because I never really grew up myself, but I seem to have a connection with children, especially the younger ones. Now teens…. well, I get along with them, but not like I do with the younger ones.

When my daughter asked me that question, I thought, “Why am I not a Santa?” So, I pulled up the internet and began looking into being a Santa.

One of the first things I did was to start growing my beard on January 1, 2008. My beard is naturally salt and pepper, but my hair is medium brown except for the gray around the temples. I figured I would have to bleach it as the Christmas season got closer. Many professional Santas do bleach their hair and beard. (More on this later.)

For Santas who want to be the best Santa they can possibly be, there are actually schools for us. One of the best and certainly the oldest is the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School established in 1937 after Mr. Howard noticed some poor excuses for Santa at several locations. As a Santa himself, Mr. Howard set about to establish a school to train Santas to uphold the traditions and to preserve the history of Santa Claus.

The school I attended was the International University of Santa Claus, founded and taught by Santa Tim Connaghan. This is due to his willingness to conduct schools all over the U.S. He travels extensively during the summer months, conducting schools.

Santa Tim’s school is the only one that I, personally have had opportunity to attend, and it was extremely helpful to this fledgling Santa. Santa Tim covers everything from the history of Santa Claus, to hair and beard care, to how to start your own Santa business, to Santa liability issues to be aware of.

Another milestone was the day I purchased my first Santa Suit. It is an amazing feeling to don that bright red suit with the fur trim. It is as if I truly become Santa.

Next came the four inch wide belt and decorative buckle and a new pair of black boots. I took the boots to a local shoe shop and had a zipper installed on the sides and fur sewn around the boot tops. I also purchased some large sleigh bells, strung them together and attached them to my boots as well. Now, every step I take announces to the world that Santa is here.

Add to the list, Santa’s toy bag and a Cool Vest (a vest worn under the coat with frozen gel pack inserts) and my wardrobe is complete. I never refer to my suit as a costume. It is my Santa suit.

In October, I went to a hair dresser and had my beard and hair bleached. I have to say that it was a painful experience.

I immediately began to be recognized as Santa everywhere I went. One memorable encounter took place as my wife, Sarah and I sat in the Cracker Barrel restaurant, waiting for our food to arrive. A little girl and her mother sat close by. I noticed that she was watching me very closely.

Soon, the little girl got up and walked up to me and said, “Who are you?”, to which I replied, “Well, who do you think I am?” “Santa” she said. So I pulled her onto my knee and we had a nice little chat. As they were leaving, her mother came over and thanked me. When I asked our waitress for the check, she told me that the lady had taken care of it.

(I just had to interject this: I paid that little girl a visit a few nights ago and I had a wonderful time with her and her family.)

The following are journal entries I began to keep when I actually started my Santa activities.

 

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11/3/2008 – Today was my first day as a professional Santa and I loved it! I am doing a two week stint at The Picture People studios. Didn’t have too many customers, so I spent a lot of time standing at the door, waving at passersby. I got a million smiles and waves in return.

We did have several customers that day, one of which was an infant. One of the neatest feelings is to be a baby’s first Santa. Now, that’s special. What a super day. I’m tired but very happy.



11/5/2008 – Ho Ho Ho, at age 62 I've finally found my calling. I have now completed my first week as a true professional Santa and I love it! When I am not sitting for photos I am waving to passersby, old and young alike and joking with them about being good for Santa. It is a great feeling to see a smile from someone who a moment earlier looked as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I stopped in the drive-through for a Subway sandwich and had another delightful encounter there. The girl at the window got all excited when she saw me and immediately produced a camera and (with my permission) took my picture while I was sitting there in my truck. When I got home, what did I find in my bag but two chocolate chip cookies that I hadn’t ordered or paid for!

(The majority of my first season was spent as a mall Santa and on opening day, I was flown in by helicopter for my grand entrance.)



11/15/2008 – It is 8:35 in the morning of the big day. I have been up since 5:30 and I don’t even have to be at the mall until noon. Can you tell I’m excited? My suitcase is packed with my boots, belt, Cool Vest, suspenders, Santa bag and toiletry items; oh yeah, a few snacks too. Well, it’s off to the showers and get dressed. A cold front blew in last night and it is pretty windy. I hope it’s not too windy for the helicopter to fly. More later……

Santa has landed. It was a total blast! We flew in and there were several hundred children there to greet us.



11/18/2008 – One of the memorable things that has happened so far happened today. I am not in any way, a racist. Santa is color blind, but I will identify the ethnicity of an individual. A black couple walked by today and as usual, I waved to them as I do to everyone. They both smiled and waved back. I saw the man say something to his wife and then he turned back toward us. He came over and asked to have his picture taken with me. Now, I said he was black, but did I mention that he was big? Not obese; I’m talking big, as in a pro football lineman big. Anyway, we sat together on my chair and I put an arm around him and we took the picture. I could just tell that there was something different about this man and I took an immediate liking to him. He told me that he wanted to take the picture to send to his daughter. I think there was a story behind it, but I could tell that he was somewhat emotional. As they were about to leave, his wife made the comment that he was just a big kid at heart. I told him, “Well, from one big kid to another, I love you, brother.” He got teary eyed and had to walk away. I don’t know why, but what I do know is that someone was touched by a simple photo taken with Santa.



11/29/2008 - Probably the neatest thing to happen today was when a young lady and her children from out of town visited me. I happen to know the young lady very well, but her children didn’t know that. They were surprised when I called her by name and mentioned her husband who wasn’t even there. I talked about little Douglas (her husband) and how he loved the Hot Wheels I brought him when he was a little boy. Then we started talking about some relatives of theirs who live in another town. One of the children asked me if I knew his cousin, Brady. “Yes”, I said. “and he is quite a steer roper too”. Those children will likely be believers for a long time to come after that visit. It was a total blast! As an addendum, I was told that Reece, Doug and Tisha’s little boy, spoke with his cousin on the phone that night and told him that Santa knows him too.


12/02/2008 - Two little boys came to the set this evening with five Chips Ahoy cookies in a baggie for me. One of the little guys also held out his hand to me with four pennies. This tough old codger could hardly contain his emotions. I kindly refused the pennies, telling him to buy some bubble gum, not that four cents will buy a piece of gum any more. I did accept the cookies, however. If anyone were to suggest to me that there is no hope for this old world, I would kindly but firmly disagree. Yes, there is a lot of greed in this old world, but there is also a lot of loving, sharing and giving.



12/03/2008 - A young couple was walking by, pushing a stroller. It was late and there was very little activity, so I waved to them and they turned into the set. In the stroller was a beautiful little 17 month old girl who had Cerebral Palsy. She had very little motor control. I felt so hopeless because I wanted to make it alright, but, of course I couldn’t. I hurt for that young couple, and for the difficulties they too will face. Once again, I thanked God for my healthy grandchildren.

A couple came in with a little three year old girl tonight. I could see that she was apprehensive as are many children in that age group. No one else was in line, so I got up and went over and began talking to her. I finally got her to give me a high five, and then a little hug. I got her to come to me and we walked over and looked at the tree ornaments. Then, I went to my chair and sat down and we took a great photo. Afterwards, her dad came over to me and said, “Forty years, and I have never seen a Santa get up and go over to a child and try to set them at ease. Thank you.”

I was shocked. I thought that is what any good Santa would do. Admittedly, that little girl was in the minority. Most children that age simply won’t have anything to do with Santa. Some parents will just plop them in Santa’s lap and want a photo with them screaming. That always makes me a little sad because I am there for the children, not the parents and I don’t like them to be so afraid of Santa.

When I asked one little seven year old girl if she had been good (a standard Santa question), she got a sad look on her face and said that she wasn’t a good girl. I immediately got the idea that she might be a victim of a form of verbal abuse where a parent continually puts down a child and tells them they are bad.

I slid her off of my knee and stood her directly in front of me, took her shoulders in both hands and looked her square in the eyes and said, "Santa knows when you have been bad or good, and you are a good girl. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that you are bad, because you’re not." Then, I gave her a big, tight hug.

I can’t begin to imagine how some parent could destroy a child’s self worth by telling them they are bad. Granted, there could be some sort of behavior problem, but if that is the case, it is very likely the fault of the parenting skills and not the child.

 

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12/09/2008 - Today, a lady came in with two little girls, about four and seven years old, I think. The lady whispered to me that the younger of the two girls said that she wanted to dance with Santa. So, after our visit, I slid them off of my lap, stood up, picked up the four year old and we danced. The look on that little girl’s face was priceless. She couldn’t have had a bigger smile. Mom was smiling too and had big alligator tears rolling down her cheeks. What a special visit that was.

This evening a man, his wife and their teen aged daughter came by the set. They didn’t come in, but just stopped and looked at me. Since I wasn’t busy at the time, I walked out to greet them. The daughter was in a wheelchair, the victim of Cerebral Palsy. She is a beautiful girl. I visited with them for a minute, concentrating on the girl. I gave her a hug and told her that I thought she was a beautiful young lady and wished her and her family a Merry Christmas. She hugged me with all of her strength. Anyway, long story short, they moved on. A little later, they walked back by on their way out of the mall. I called them over and asked if I could take a photo with her. She was so excited. The photo is of me kissing her on the cheek. I gave them a copy and kept one for myself. The family was touched and her mom tearfully thanked me. It is sad that many folks will avert their eyes from someone in a wheelchair, but Santa would never do that. If I am able to bring a moment of happiness to that family, I will gladly do it. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said she wanted nothing. I told her that she would have at least one thing; Santa’s love, and I meant it with all my heart. I walked away with a lump in my own throat. I’ll never forget that young lady and I hope I get to see her again sometime. Thank you, God, for the privilege of being Santa. I’m not worthy.



12/17/2008 - A family came by this evening with two small boys. They also had the man’s mother with them, an elderly lady in a wheelchair. After my visit with the boys, I asked the lady if she wanted to come sit on Santa’s knee. While she didn’t sit on my knee, her son did push her wheelchair next to me for a photo. I leaned down to give her a hug and she kissed me on the cheek and told me that her late husband was a Santa too. She was in tears by the time she got it out. Of course, that called for another hug for her. Her son came over and shook my hand, thanking me for making it a special evening for his mother. What I neglected to tell him was that it was her who made the evening special for me.

A little girl, about seven years old came for a visit. It seemed like a routine visit with her asking for several of the usual items for a girl that age. Then, she asked if I could give her brother a basketball. I looked around for a brother, but didn’t see him, so I asked her where he was. She said, “He is in Heaven”. It seems her sixteen year old brother died recently and he loved to play basketball. I told her that I would see that he got a basketball and that I would say a little prayer for her and her family. What I didn’t tell her is that I pray every day for "my children."

After our visit, I walked over to her mother and told her that the little girl told me about her brother and that I was so sorry for their loss. The mother teared up and said, "It’s been hard." What I didn’t mention to her is that just two days before was the third anniversary of our own son’s death. Sometimes Santa would like to share these things, but she had enough grief and I didn’t want to burden her with any more.

A little boy came to the set carrying a two inch high stack of catalogs. I first thought he was going to try to sell me a magazine until I realized they were catalogs with items circled that he wanted for Christmas. His dad whispered that he would come back in a few minutes and pick them up.

Another little boy brought in a little paper sack with items cut out of a catalog. There must have been thirty or forty little pieces of paper in there.



12/23/2008 - A handsome young man came through the line this evening wearing a U.S. Marine uniform. After we had our picture taken I walked with him to the cashier and told her that this one is on me and thanked him for his service to our country. He felt guilty for getting his photos free, but I told him, "Hey, I’m Santa. Don’t cross me, or all you will get is socks and underwear for Christmas" It was the least this old Santa could do for one of our fine young folks who serve in the military.

So many of the neat experiences that I have each day go unmentioned because I forget them before I have a chance to write them down. Of course, just to look into the sweet, innocent eyes of so many children is a wonderful experience in itself. I wish I could put into words how it feels to have a child gaze at me with love and awe, and to give me the tightest squeeze their little bodies are capable of giving when they hug me, and very often a kiss too. I am blessed to be Santa.



12/24/2008 - It is the morning of my final day at the mall and I look on it with mixed emotions. I am so very tired, but oh, how I love those adoring looks I receive from those beautiful children. How I love the excitement in their voices as they recite their wish lists to me. How I cherish the memory of those hugs and kisses and hearing, "I love you, Santa." Those memories are what will get me through to next season.

It is now the evening of Christmas Eve and I am back home after a long day on Santa’s throne. I can hardly believe the season is over. As exhausted as I am, I have many wonderful memories of my first season as Santa Claus.

I am already planning for next season. I hope to soon purchase my second Santa suit. I have decided on the old Coca Cola style suit this time. I love that style. It differs from the traditional style in that it has large buttons down the front of the coat instead of the fur trim. I had numerous compliments on the one that was furnished by the photo company.

 

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So, what will I do in the coming months? I will get my suit cleaned, bagged and stored for the off season. I will clean and polish boots, belt and buckle. I will fold and put away my Santa bag and Cool Vest and inserts.

I will send out some “thank you” notes to some folks. I will contact the two companies I worked for, getting and giving feedback. I will begin to decide exactly what I want to do next season and plan a marketing strategy and time frame to get them accomplished.

I will pick some cold, rainy day to go through all of the things I have collected during the season such as wish lists, letters to Santa, photos and little trinkets given to me by the children. I will get my scrap book filled with these things and put the larger ones on display. I’m sure this project will take the better part of a day, as I will undoubtedly stop and reminisce over many of the things that bring back such wonderful memories.

I will continue my quest for more and more knowledge to make my personification of the big guy better and more polished than this year.

As I write this on the evening of January first, 2009, I fondly look back on my wonderful experiences and look forward to next season when I will once again don the red suit and become Santa. What a great honor and awesome responsibility to be able to say, "I am Santa." Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."


Can't you just imagine Santa Don in his sleigh, his reindeer flying off into the starry night, Rudolph at the front, guiding the team? It makes me feel young and innocent and happy. Very happy.

My most sincere thanks go to you, Don Galaway, for allowing us to know you and experience the joys of Santa Claus with you. I wish you well, and a long, long future of showing children (and grown-ups too) the thrill and the magic of Christmas love.

And my wish for all our Cubits members is a very happy Christmas, one in which blessings abound and love is shared.

Please come back next week for some heartwarming nostalgia, told by our favorite writer, Sharon.

 

(Visit Santa Don's website:  Santa 2 U)


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About Nancy Polanski
My husband and I live in Buffalo NY with our cats Daisy and Lucy. I love Western New York and all it has to offer. Some fabulous people live here.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Merry Christmas, Santa! Sharon Dec 21, 2011 8:51 PM 17
Santa Don billyporter Dec 21, 2011 1:55 PM 0
Thank You Santa! starlight1153 Dec 20, 2011 8:38 PM 2
Perfect timing kaglic Dec 20, 2011 8:07 AM 3
Untitled Audrey Dec 19, 2011 5:33 PM 5

Who's Who Spotlight

Who's Who Spotlight articles feature personal interviews and photos of individual Cubits members, sharing with you their talents and expertise in a variety of areas and interests.

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