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Bringing cheer for the holidays

Every time the Christmas season rolls around, so does Vic Sitmer, dressed in red and bringing cheer.

By EBONY WINDOM
Published December 24, 2005


  photo
[Times photos: Dan McDuffie]
Vic Sitmer, playing Santa, chats with patient Jack Meyer during Wednesday's Christmas party at Baldomero Lopez State Nursing Home. Sitmer, along with his wife, delivered presents donated by the nursing home staff to each of the patients at the party.
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Santa and Mrs. Claus, played by Vic and Fran Sitmer, call out names on presents for the patients at the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home during a Christmas party Wednesday afternoon. All of the presents for the patients were bought by the nursing home staff.
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Vic Sitmer, dressed as Santa, chats with patient Davey Singkofer during the Baldomero Lopez State Nursing Home party Wednesday.

LAND O"LAKES - Once Vic Sitmer shimmies into his bright, red suit and slips on the white gloves, "a whole different person comes out," says his wife, Fran.

Instantly, Vic Sitmer becomes Santa Claus.

But even without the Santa getup, Sitmer sort of looks the part. He's a stocky guy with squinty, brown eyes and a long, white beard.

Helping the real St. Nick has become a hobby for Vic Sitmer, who lives in Land O'Lakes.

It started years ago, when Sitmer filled in as Santa at a local department store.

When kids saw him, their faces lit up. And that gave Sitmer a little thrill.

"The grin that I get back, it just radiates in me," said Sitmer, 78.

So the next Christmas, Sitmer transformed into Mr. Claus again. And he's been doing it at Christmas time ever since.

Fran Sitmer, 73, is his cheery sidekick, Mrs. Claus. She sews the costumes and helps book the gigs.

Playing the Clauses has become a holiday business for the Sitmers. Before retirement, Mr. Sitmer was a banker and Fran Sitmer worked at a hospice.

Now, they have plenty of free time. And aside from the holiday season, the pair travels from coast to coast in a camper, appropriately named "Santa's Tag-a-Long."

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are a bustling time for the couple. On a busy week, the Sitmers clock 25 hours working as the Clauses.

Dressed in matching red outfits with white trim, the Sitmers make appearances at churches, day care centers, department stores and restaurants.

Last week, tots at Kids Stuff Daycare in Land O'Lakes were eager to see Santa.

One 3-year-old boy was too afraid to approach him. But others scurried up with excitement.

"Gimme five," Sitmer said to one little girl, extending his gloved hand. Then Sitmer scooped up the girl and placed her in his lap.

"Do you know my name?" Sitmer said, his glasses resting on the tip of his nose.

"Santa Claus," she said bashfully.

At Kids Stuff, the tots rattled off their Christmas lists.

Other times, kids come clutching handwritten letters.

Sitmer has had his pictures taken with wailing babies. Curious youngsters tug on his stringy beard. Occasionally, Sitmer runs into a sassy youth who is "ho-hum" about seeing Santa.

One time, a kid asked Sitmer about his hearing aid. The real Santa doesn't wear one, the child said. But Sitmer had a quick response.

"That's how I communicate with the reindeer," he said.

This year, the Sitmers even posed for pictures with dogs at a Tampa pet store.

And the Sitmers don't charge non-profit groups the usual $100 per hour.

A few weeks ago, when the pair made a visit to the local hospice, they met a boy who had recently lost his mother. He had an unusual request for Santa.

"The boy said, "I know you can't do this, but I sure would like my mother back,' " Sitmer said, recalling that day.

That broke his heart.

The Sitmers, who boast a large blended family, simply love children. Combined, they have 10 grown children, 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

"They're so innocent," Mrs. Sitmer said. "and so unpretentious. And so honest."

It's important for kids to have a sense of wonder at Christmastime, Mrs. Sitmer said.

When Vic Sitmer was a kid, visiting Santa was never a tradition. He was born Jewish. But, growing up, the Sitmers never practiced the faith. And Vic Sitmer's mother sort of adopted Christmas traditions. So Sitmer grew to love the holiday.

About his faith, Sitmer simply says "I believe in God." At their home in Land O'Lakes, a rotating Christmas tree is the jewel of the living room. It's trimmed with fancy ornaments in porcelain and crystal. Some came from faraway countries the Sitmers have visited. Their travels have yet to take them to the North Pole.

Today, the Sitmers will hang up their red suits. The Clauses won't be making any more appearances until next Christmas.

To the tots at Kids Stuff Daycare, Vic Sitmer said: "I'll be back to your house in three more nights. You won't see me, but I'll see you."

Ebony Windom covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at 813 909-4609 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4609. Her e-mail address is ewindom@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 24, 2005, 01:10:16]


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