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Downtown Santa battling cancer

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Manteca’s downtown Santa Ben Jetton is shown taking a picture with a youngster earlier this month.

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POSTED December 22, 2017 12:51 a.m.

Just weeks ago, Ben Jetton took his place in his chair in Santa’s Hut in Downtown Manteca and got to work doing what he loves to do – helping families have a Christmas memory that they’ll cherish forever.
But by last week, Jetton – who has been battling pancreatic cancer for the last year – had taken a turn for the worst.
According to family friend Jennifer Munoz, who helped Jetton in his mission to rehabilitate Santa’s Hut and renovate it so that young children in wheelchairs would be able to enjoy a picture in Santa as well, he is now at a Hospice Center in Hughson as the family makes end-of-life preparations.
“He is the epitome of Christmas,” a shaken Munoz said. “If you go online and look at some of the Manteca groups, people are heartbroken because he’s touched so many lives over the years – he was just the kind of guy who wanted to make sure that everybody had that perfect picture and experience and this is just tragic news.”
Munoz’ husband was one of several volunteers that put in work to replace the aging hut that for years has sat in storage except for the month leading up to Christmas when it is pulled out and parked at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue – a gift to the community from the Downtown Merchants Association.
A donated new roof, a new trailer and materials necessary to rebuild the hut that stands there today was supposed to ensure, back in 2013, that Jetton would have many more years to pulling his infamous stealth move – where he disappears out a side door from his chair and appears behind a crying child when being held by their parents, unbeknownst to the child at the time.
“He’s the only Santa Claus that I ever knew that did that,” Munoz said. “You got a lot of other places and there are lines and they just want to get you through there as quickly as possible, but that wasn’t Ben – he wanted to make sure that everybody had the perfect picture and something that they could look back on.
“And he even made sure that there was a separate door so he could get out without the child knowing, and that just speaks to the kind of guy that he was and what he wanted for the people who came down to see him.”
Munoz has organized an online fundraiser to help the family – who has been heavily involved in his Christmas operation over the years – make the end-of-life preparations that they weren’t expecting to be doing at the height of the holidays. Jetton’s daughter Monique, who takes the pictures for the people who come downtown, is still there taking pictures from 1 to 5 p.m. everyday – “it’s what he wanted” according to Munoz – with a replacement Santa Claus.
Friends are hoping that he’ll hold on through Christmas Eve, when he was supposed to celebrate the birthday of his wife, Marlene.
“It’s just heartbreaking news to hear anytime, and during this time of year – it’s especially hard,” Munoz said. “I’m just hoping that we can make things a little bit easier for the family as they go through this process.”
Those interested in donating can visit and search for “Ben Jetton” in the search bar to be brought to Munoz’ fundraiser. She is hoping to raise $5,000 for the family.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.

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