Gentle Wings volunteers join Santa Bob to capture more memories.
Bob Smith — a.k.a. “Santa Bob” — agrees. Smith, a pediatric nurse, began volunteering as the Children’s Center’s Santa after child life staff took note of his beard (then of “mediocre length,” he tells us) and asked if he’d suit up. “I’m a little shy, so it took a little prodding,” Smith admits. But by the end of his debut, Smith was hooked. He’s become so committed to the role that he hasn’t cut his beard in three years and even dyes it white for the big day.
Smith’s similarities to the man in red are more than beard deep. “Bob has a gentle presence and jolly spirit that make him the perfect fit for Santa,” Tara Lodermeier, a child life specialist, tells us. “He has a way of connecting with the patients of all ages, even the teenagers.”
Perhaps that’s because he can relate to the young people he meets. “I’m a big 12-year-old at heart,” Smith tells us. He’s also “a Christmas guy,” and says playing Santa has become one of his favorite parts of the season. “I love doing it,” he says. “The patients and their parents are so appreciative. You get moms wiping away tears because they didn’t think their kids were going to get to see Santa Claus.” Smith usually finds himself wiping away a few tears of his own. “It’s heartbreaking that these kids are stuck in the hospital,” he says. “They’re tough little cookies, and I like helping them through.”
Thanks to generous donors who stock his workshop, Santa’s visit includes gifts for patients and their siblings. This year Smith handed out teddy bears, books, games, toys, Love Your Melon hats and even American Girl dolls.
“I was surprised Blake received such a large gift from Santa,” Beth Rebelein tells us of the four-foot tall FastLane Action Wheels Mega Crane her 9-year-old son received. She was even more surprised that Blake’s siblings received gifts as well. Beth tells us the visit from Santa “brought some Christmas spirit to Blake’s room. It has been so easy to lose track of time living in the hospital, and it doesn’t really feel like Christmas to any of us. Santa swinging by and recognizing all three of our kids brought a really nice bright spot to our day and our overall hospital stay.”
Story shared from Mayo Clinics work/life