COLUMBUS, Ohio –
As a government contract specialist, Kary Sauers checks lists – sometimes twice – to ensure military personnel around the world get the supplies and equipment they need to complete their missions.
As Santa Claus, he helps families experience a bit of holiday magic each year on the home front.
His latter role is one he knows well. He’s been appearing as Jolly Old St. Nick for more than half a century.
Most recently, he entertained members of the Joint Reserve Force at Defense Supply Center Columbus Dec. 3 during their annual holiday party – marking his 51st consecutive year performing as Santa.
Sauers has been a post award contracting officer at the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime in Columbus, Ohio, since 2008, but says his love for becoming Santa each December has been a lifelong passion.
He put on his first red suit, boots and cap to help deliver toys to a local orphanage as a high school senior in 1966.
“From the beginning, it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Sauers said. “Just seeing the children’s reaction to Santa’s visit and the gifts that he personally gave them – I’ve been doing it ever since.”
More than 50 members of the 391st Military Police Battalion and their families attended this year’s event at DSCC. Sauers, aka Santa, was on hand to pose for photos, greet the guests, and receive the long line of children and their gift requests.
“The kids are really excited,” said Army Sgt. Cynthia DeJonghe, one of the battalion’s medics. “My daughter was really excited when she found out Santa would be here, and even more so when she found out her mommy knew him.”
DeJonghe found Sauers after making a request on social media for a Santa who could appear at a holiday party taking place on a military installation.
Sauers said he’s appeared as Santa at day care centers, family parties, and formal work functions on and off base. He credits his experience with preparing him for every awkward scenario and difficult question.
“When I get questions asking me where my sleigh is, I tell them it’s up on the rooftop,” he said. “When they ask me where my reindeer are, I say I took them to the park to play reindeer games. At this point, I can answer just about every question.”
Sauers says his ‘look’ has changed over the years, especially as his normal appearance evolved to match his holiday persona.
“I used to have a fake beard that I glued on along with a wig,” he recalled. “Then I grew a beard but had to color it white each time I dressed up. I don’t have to do that anymore.”
While Sauers said he’s looking forward to his natural hair and beard to become even more authentically white, he admitted some parts of the costume have always been real.
“The belly? I’ve never had a problem with that!”
He’s also updated his costume to reflect contemporary culture and considerations for his own health.
“I used to smoke a pipe like the old Santa did but gave that up after I quit smoking,” he said.
Sauers’ Santa suits have included store bought outfits and even custom-made costumes, but after more than five decades he’s settled on a traditional look – a classic red suit and black boots children have come to expect.
He said it’s an honor to be able to serve the men and women of the Armed Forces in a dual capacity. While his job at DLA Land and Maritime allows him to contribute to the physical safety of troops on the battlefield, his appearances as Santa let him spread morale to young and old alike.
DeJonghe’s daughter Helana, 7, waited with anticipation for her chance to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what she wanted for Christmas. With an approving nod from her mother, Santa assured her she had a good chance of receiving the playing cards she asked for – if she continued being good.
“The thing I most enjoy about being Santa is the reaction of the children and seeing the smiles on their faces,” Sauers said. “I think that's why I do it and will continue to do it as long as I'm able.”