On one special night a year, Newton County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Dobbs puts aside his shirt, tie and suit jacket for a different kind of suit.

On one night a year, Newton County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Dobbs puts aside his shirt, tie and jacket for a different kind of suit.

For the past 20 Christmases, Dobbs has donned the familiar red-and-white suit of Santa Claus and greeted a steady stream of children making their way to see the jolly old elf at the Rev. Tom Thorne’s home, 525 Oak Ridge Drive.

“Every year, Tom and I almost intentionally avoid the topic of Santa Claus, and it always comes together,” Dobbs said.

It all began in 1987, when Dobbs was named the chief juvenile officer for the county and Thorne was a juvenile probation officer. Thorne had begun doing a Santa presentation at his home some years before, and asked Dobbs if he wanted to help.

“We just knew that so many kids never had the opportunity to go to the mall, pay the price and sit on Santa’s knee for a picture,” Dobbs said. “There are no retail Santas in our area, so this is a wonderful opportunity to go out and be Santa.”

Dobbs said he has seen some of the children grow up, as he has visited with the same families for 10 to 15 years.

“And I have some parents come up to me and whisper in my ear that their kids think I am the only Santa there is,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs said his physical characteristics have helped in his portrayal of Saint Nick since high school days, and perhaps led Thorne to asking for his help in the annual presentation.

It’s not a fairweather job. Dobbs has portrayed Santa when the mercury hovered near zero as well as when temperatures have better suited May than December.

“We’ve been out there in the pouring rain, when it’s 65 degrees, and when it’s 7 degrees, and we never fail to see a steady stream of children.”

Each child gets to visit with Santa while family members snap their picture. And each girl and boy gets a special treat.

Dobbs said he’s had many memorable moments in portraying Santa. Once, a young divorced mother brought her children to see Santa.

“They were feeling a little discouraged about Christmas, because of the divorce,” Dobbs said. “When they came up the sidewalk, I recognized them and called each of them by name. They just became giddy, saying ‘Santa Claus knew us!’ That’s cool to give those kids a little normalcy back into their lives.”

Other times are bittersweet, such as when a little one has someone deployed overseas.

“I’ve had kids sit on Santa’s lap, and the only thing they ask for is to keep Daddy safe while he’s overseas,” Dobbs said. “Then there are the disadvantaged children, some of whom are so sweet. I had one boy, about 8, and he wanted to give his Christmas wish to his little sister, so she could get more. It really reveals the depth of charity children have for one another. I’ve had children ask for the health of their parents, a sick sibling and a person deployed.

“It’s a lesson in humility when you serve as Santa Claus. You learn not everyone in the world is motivated by greed or to further their own agenda.”

The annual production has scaled down, somewhat, over the years. When Dobbs first began portraying Santa at the Thornes’ home, it was he and several elves over a several night period.

Now, he and Thorne go it alone with a one-night engagement only.

“But there’s still that opportunity to visit with Santa, to have that piece of Christmas,” Dobbs said.

Neosho Daily News