With Christmas less than one week away, Eldercare Elanora resident Don Beinke has spent the last few weeks dressing up as Santa Claus to bring holiday cheer to the Yorke Peninsula.
It’s a role Don, 94, knows well having first worn the beloved red suit in 1986 as a way to connect with the local community.
“I retired in Point Turton and wanted to be part of the community so I volunteered to play Santa in the Warooka Christmas Pageant,” said Don.
“I like children and had six of my own, and I like a bit of a challenge, so I thought I’d give it a go.
“People said I did a good job so I kept going!”
He continued to volunteer as Santa Claus in the Warooka pageant every Christmas Eve for 28 years.
The pageant was a highlight on the community calendar with local farmers driving their decorated farm machinery and children walking with their local sporting teams.
As Santa, Don was the much-anticipated ‘final act’ and, over the years, proudly arrived on elaborately decorated forms of transport including cars, a horse and buggy and a ute.
“We’d proceed down through the town to the rotunda in front of the hotel where we’d get many cheers,” said Don.
Don also dressed up as Santa when he was a member of the local singing group Sing As We Go and now transforms into ‘The Man in the Red Suit’ at Elanora for Stansbury Primary School student visits as well as volunteer and resident events.
Lifestyle Coordinator Cheryl Lang said Don spreads happiness by playing Santa at Elanora and lets residents, staff and volunteers see a different side of him.
“When Don becomes Santa Claus he transforms his persona and he really loves connecting with people young and old,” said Cheryl.
“He interacts so well with the children and they were just in awe when they met him.
“He led them in the singing of some Christmas songs and it was lovely to see.”
Don said he has received some memorable present requests from children over the years.
“One boy wanted a tractor for dad, a house for mum and gun for himself,” said Don.
“One girl from Corny Point had a list of presents five pages long!
“Quite a few would ask for another brother or sister and mum would be there shaking her head.”
Don says the secret to playing Santa is to look and act the part.
“You can’t be moody because children will pick it up straight away,” said Don.
“Don’t promise what mum and dad can’t deliver.
“Being prepared is important and I would always read the ads in the paper to learn which toys were popular each year.”
After so many years of bringing joy to the children and the community, Don has gathered plenty of memories.
“The best part of playing Santa is seeing the happiness on children’s faces,” said Don.
“No two years were the same and some children that sat on my knee as youngsters came back with their own children years later.”
One thing that has remained constant is Don’s Santa suit: a friend made it for him nearly 30 years ago and he still wears the same outfit today.
“The pants get smaller every year but I manage,” said Don.
“I’m very good at innovating!”
Image: Eldercare Elanora resident Don Beinke getting into character as Santa Claus.