‘Santa’ receives big gift


XENIA — If Greg Paxson had his way, he’d be at a Christmas-related event surrounded by children.

Greene County’s beloved “Santa” has had the holiday spirit going on for 64 years now and embodies the grand ol’ elf himself.

Last year, Paxson was honored by an unexpected visit from Xenia city employees. Mayor Sarah Mays proclaimed Christmas Day in Xenia “Greg Paxson Day” to Paxson’s complete surprise.

“I’m a kid at heart and I love Christmas time,” Paxson said last holiday season. “I like seeing the joy in the kids faces and I like seeing the light in their eyes.”

Fast forward to Christmas this year. The cheerful smile and the twinkle in his eyes are still there but he won’t be riding in a sleigh or going down chimneys any time soon. Having been diagnosed with ALS this past year, he’s bound to a wheelchair for now.

Paxson was surprised Thursday evening by a visit from family, friends, neighbors, and some city/county employees. He met those who came by with warm greetings and his trademark smile as he sat surrounded by family and friends in his driveway on Arrowhead Trail.

Even old friends from high school popped up — like former Xenia High School classmate Tammy Taylor — who stopped by to share a little Christmas cheer with her old friend.

“Greg and I were graduates from the class of 1976 and I didn’t realize he didn’t live that far away,” said Taylor. “I saw a Facebook post about a surprise visit being planned and I thought I’d come by and lift his spirits. He’s always been a great guy and the perfect Santa.”

Another old high school friend, Jim Snell, who lives in Utah, sent a gift card via his sister Jill who lives in the area.

All the outpouring of love and support did not go unnoticed by Paxson, who had no idea a big surprise was in the works.

“I’m very shocked and pleased. They’re all great people,” said Paxson. “The more I think about it, it’s amazing the outpouring of love that I was shown. It’s been a tough Christmas because I miss doing Santa. But it’s good to know that I did make an impact. I’ve received lots of cards, 22 in the mail today. It’s great to see everyone care, it felt great. It’s been a true honor to see these kids grow up, like three generations.”

While Paxson and his wife, Denise, watched the carolers who had gathered, visitors kept stopping by, bringing cards and gifts. It might have been a very chilly night but spirits were bright as friends joined the carolers in the singing of old standards like “Jingle Bells.”

Paxson described a photo book that Laurie Fox, Greene County Public Health, showed him. It contained photos of her son (visiting Paxson as Santa), throughout the years.

“I was really touched. It was very special,” said Paxson.

Cuddled up in his Santa blanket, Paxson might not appear as robust as he once was, but he still turns heads wherever he goes — just ask his twin daughters, Erica and Erin, who recall a childhood when their dad was a local celebrity.

“Everywhere we went, grocery stores, restaurants, etc., dad would say ‘just call me Santa, not dad.’ He wanted to stay in character so we never got out of a store quickly like other folks. Everyone would come up to him and want to chat,” said Erica Paxson.

Added Erin Paxson, “And we couldn’t tell our friends or other kids that our dad was Santa. It was a secret we had to keep.”

Paxson maintained his dual identity while working as an insurance claims adjuster for years. Now the man who has portrayed Santa most of his life — and admits to attending the Charles W. Howard Santa School in Michigan a record four times — wants to give away his professional Santa suits to someone who wants to take on the role to benefit children of the next generation.

These days, if you’re looking for the sprightly ol’ elf, you can find him watching old holiday movies at home.

“’White Christmas’ is his favorite. He could watch it all day, every day,” said Mrs. Clause.

Reach Karen Rase at 937-502-4534.

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