When dressed in full Santa regalia, a red suit and fake, snow white beard, Kenny Newell of Marion must be prepared to answer a range of unique inquiries. Newell has been one of Santa’s chief helpers in Marion for eight years, filling in when Santa is too busy to appear in person.
Often children ask him where he parks his reindeer when he is in town. Sometimes Newell says they are down at the city shop, other times he responds that they are still at the North Pole.
Some children wondered how Santa can fit down their chimney, or find a way into their house without a fireplace. Newell said that it is part of Santa’s magical powers. He can compact his body to fit down even the tightest flue.
Newell first donned his red Santa suit for Shawn Wunderlick’s day-care and Michele Regnier’s Sunshine preschool. Soon he added the head start preschool at Marion Elementary School.
Eventually he was contacted by Margo Yates to be Santa at Marion City Library and in the Christmas parade. Newell made his first appearance Saturday at the library and he will be in the Christmas parade Sunday.
In 2010, Newell was even contracted by a few Marion families to come to their homes as Santa.
As a part of the act, he tries to sneak up on a residence until the children see him, scream with joy, and he back tracks with feigned surprise.
There are pitfalls involved with being Santa.
Newell has to hide his eyes with sunglasses from children who may know him.
He has to be careful if children offer him a drink. He cannot drink, for fear of ruining his beard, so he politely accepts a cup and places it to his lips but does not take a sip.
He has heard many gift ideas. Some children want electronics or something as expensive and dangerous as a four-wheeler. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, many children just want candy.
Sometimes Newell receives a request that even the real Saint Nick would struggle to complete. He has had children ask to get their families back together after a divorce. As an emergency medical technician and dispatcher, Newell has experience with distraught children. He also went through a divorce and he knows how tough it was on his own children.
Newell accepts donations for his service but he never asks for them. He has paid for two suits with his own money.
His dedication to the job does not stop there. To visit schools this year, Newell is taking off Dec. 21 and 22 from his full-time job as a dispatcher.
The Christmas season is an event Newell looks forward to even before Thanksgiving. His reward is seeing the faces of children light up with the image of Santa. He has an Easter bunny costume too, but its effect, with an open face, is nowhere close to the joy Santa brings.
“I love seeing the faces of the kids,” Newell said. “It makes me happy.”
Many children ask for hugs from Santa.
“Nobody walks away without one,” Newell said.
Strangely, Newell thinks being Santa has had other effects. Recently, at a park, a crowd of children was drawn to Newell with no apparent reason.
“Good things come naturally,” Newell said of the effect of being Santa.