Ripon’s very own Santa and Mrs. Claus have added Christmas cheer in town for the last 24 years only to be sidelined by a serious double bout with the flu this yuletide season.
Red and Bonnie Nutt have seen and reveled in the joy in children’s faces throughout the community as they visited private homes and area preschools asking nothing in return.
Former police chief Red Nutt was a sergeant back in 1975 when he got the urge to play Santa for children in his neighborhood and for officers’ families near his home. Nutt said his appreciation of Santa goes back to when he was just 3 years old and saw Santa for the first time – he was in total awe.
Nutt said the flu put him and his wife under the weather for about eight days earlier this month and when they began to feel better but their symptoms returned and became worse.
His first suit was rented from a woman in Ceres where he bought his next suit a year later. Since that time Mrs. Claus (Bonnie) has personally sewn each of his new suits. Nutt said she made it double extra large and added one more size to it and it worked out just fine. He bought only the best beards and they were good for only two years.
Mrs. Claus would drive the bearded gent to his assignments, because he had trouble navigating his “sleigh” while dressed in the red and white suit.
“The payback is the looks on the kids’ faces,” he said. “It’s just hard to explain.”
parked down the
street while visiting
When making a surprise visit at a home Santa would park down the street because he knew that when he left the youngsters would be watching him out the windows. And for the smaller children he had to get down on his knees and almost crawl into the front door to get down to their size – often splitting out the seam in his pants.
Everyone wanted to be a good host to Santa giving him cookies and a hot toddy. He soon learned the beard prevented him to drink anything so he was given a straw – but those drinks caused his cheeks to turn red without the use of rouge – quickly having to refuse the hospitality.
What actually got Nutt started playing Santa in the mid-‘70s was watching kids and their parents in the mall who couldn’t afford the price of pictures to see the jolly old elf. He was going to make a difference for the kids in Ripon – and he did just that.
At a time when the Ripon officers were paid a little more than the food stamp limit, the sergeant would play Santa for three weeks in December before the holiday. It was four years ago that Nutt began to slow down in his effort and last year he visited only 15 houses and a couple hundred kids at preschools. He found that with the heat of the suit, he would lose three to four pounds every year just from sweating.
To his chagrin parents often wanted to force the younger children onto Santa’s lap even though they were fearful. He remembers telling the moms and dads to first let the little ones sit back and watch the other kids talking to Santa.
Santa who has flu
With Ripon’s Santa trying to recover from the flu, his son John has taken on his role and can be seen near his own home across from Weston Elementary School these nights handing out candy canes. You can hear the music from 106.7 FM coming from his house and see the dancing lights as you walk down his street, Nutt said.
It was last year when Ripon’s former police chief was playing Santa at Doctors Hospital that his two youngest grandchildren – 9 and 10 years old – spied his ring on a gloveless hand and realized who Santa really was in their lives. He noted that he always wore gloves because a careful touch on a gloved hand is better received than skin touching skin.
Nutt has refused to play Santa for any commercialized event and especially where families are being charged for pictures to allow the children to see Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. There was one event where $5 was being charged and “Santa” agreed to be there only if the kids who didn’t have the money wouldn’t be turned away. In fact he even offered to pay the $5 for anyone who couldn’t afford the fee.
“Santa needs a lot of help,” Nutt said, adding that anyone who wants to do it will have a lot of fun in just watching the reactions of children and family members alike.
Ripon’s longtime Santa said he has just wanted to see the joy in the children’s faces. He said he didn’t have to smile himself, because the beard took care of that – it created its own smile image. He always carried a bag with him when going door to door filled with candy canes in case he came across neighborhood children. “You had to have something to give them,” he said.
As for Christmas at the Nutt home, there is a 25-pound prime rib roast that is ready to go into the oven for a dozen family members. “If it’s too big to fit, we’ll just cut it in half,” Santa chuckled.