Being Santa

December 23, 2011

Herman Winslett of Sweetwater has portrayed Santa Claus for the past 35 years, travelling all over the country and in town.

Sitting in the midst of the crowd during the Sweetwater Healthcare Center Christmas party on Wednesday afternoon, December 21, is a man donning yellow sunglasses and a Santa hat.
But the hat is only a glimpse into the persona that the man, Herman Winslett, portrayed for the past 35 years.
Mr. Winslett is taking a break from being Santa Claus--the suit doesn't quite fit as well as it once did. Right next to his side is his bride of 41 years, Wynelle, who also took on the role of Mrs. Claus.
Mrs. Winslett is now a resident of Sweetwater Healthcare, but the scene is familiar to Mr. Winslett, who used to make his Santa appearances at a number of nursing homes.
He also would visit schools and children's hospitals, and noted the intensity of the visits.
"You have to be strong and not get caught up in the emotion," he recollected.
He would visit hospitals of children with wide variety of ailments, even those that were diagnosed with and dying of cancer. But in the moment, he said, he had to remain strong. Afterward, then he could cry.
And in a lot of instances, as Mr. Winslett recalled, the scenes with Santa are emotional. One time at a nursing home in Blanco, he told a resident that he would see him again next year. The resident responded that he wouldn't be back next year--he just wanted to be "home" with his mother.
However, the most memorable experience as Santa for Mr. Winslett was at a time when he found himself as a hospital patient.
"I told them if they made me well, then I would be their Santa." He recuperated and was able to put on his Santa suit, and then he began to visit the patients.
During the gig, he was introduced to Annie, a lady who had been dropped off at the facilities and was mute for five years. But at the instant that Annie saw him, she grabbed Mr. Winslett by the beard and simply uttered his assumed name.
"Santa."
When I asked him why he took on the role, he said it was always something he wanted to do. In addition, he does it for free. Not only has his Santa persona taken Mr. Winslett around town and even the state, but all over the country.
"Except California," he clarified. "They said it would be too much distraction...It's a different world out there."
Mrs. Winslett has also joined him on his Santa expeditions, except for a trip he made to New York. In many years past, Mr. and Mrs. Winslett were a truck driver and school teacher, respectively.
Perhaps his occupation was a contributor to his travels as Santa, and he said he has the pictures at his house to prove it. The numerous photos capture the memories, but one aspect can't be reproduced on film.
It will forever remain as a memory to Mr. Winslett, who will always remember as Santa seeing everyone--the kids and kids at heart--undeniably happy.

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