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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Dec. 12, 2008

David Greulich

Santa's story

by Barbara McBreen, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications

Being Santa means more than delivering toys on Christmas Eve. It's also the lists, the letters, the gifts, the beard, the clothes, the mall, the reindeer and -- most importantly -- the children.

David Greulich, who takes the business of portraying Santa seriously, has a bagful of stories from the children he has met.

"Kids are pretty much the same everywhere you go," Greulich said. "You may have regional differences in the toys they want. Everyone wants video games. Little girls still want Barbies and little boys want trucks and trains."

Greulich, who has worked as a research associate at the veterinary diagnostic and production animal laboratory for the past 18 years, takes time off during the holiday season to visit with children. He first took the role as a mall Santa five years ago after his sister-in-law suggested the idea. He even attended a convention on how to improve his Santa presentation.

"I attended a convention in Branson, Mo., three years ago for Santas who have real beards," Greulich said. "We had about 500 Santas and Mrs. Clauses.

"My wife says she's not Mrs. Claus because she's too young, doesn't bake, doesn't feed the reindeer or try to unionize elves," he added.

David Greulich as Santa

The business of Santa

Greulich said there are regional and national Santa organizations that provide a network of contacts. Most often, Santas are contracted by photo companies to spend the season at a mall. One holiday season, he contracted to perform in a suburban Los Angeles mall. When he took his family out to tour the area, he was the main attraction.

"I was in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre near the Walk of Fame. They had Elmo, Superman and Wonder Woman impersonators who wanted tourists to pose with them in a photo for a fee. Several of the impersonators were upset with me because I was stealing all the thunder."

Greulich is a perfect Santa. His thundering ho-ho-ho, twinkling eyes and full white beard could make anyone a believer. And oh, the stories he hears.

"There was a beautiful little girl who was around 4 years old who came to see Santa. I asked what she wanted for Christmas and she said makeup," Greulich said. "I said, 'You are so beautiful, why would you want real makeup?' And she said 'Everyone says I'm ugly.'"

Greulich said that was a heartbreaker. He tried to convince her that she was beautiful. He also tries to help parents by not promising things children may not get.

"Santa can never guarantee anything, but he can promise he'll try," Greulich said. "Last year, the Wii game systems were popular, but I knew there might not be enough available."

Santa receives lots of letters and Greulich said he has a large file at home that he enjoys reading. One little girl dropped her letter in his bag and said she didn't want him to read it until he returned to the North Pole.

The next day Greulich opened the letter addressed to the North Pole and it stated, "I want a magic wand, so I can turn my mommy into a pig."

"The rest of the letter went on normally, listing Barbies and other toys," Greulich said. "You never know what kids are going to ask for."

Sometimes older children have their doubts.

"So I'll say, 'Are you sure you want to trust that feeling? What will happen Christmas morning if you don't believe?' and that gives them something to think about," Greulich said.

No off-season for Santa

Even during the off-season, Greulich often is addressed as Santa.

"People will come up to me and very gingerly say, 'You know, you really look like Santa,'" Greulich said.

Small children often ask why he's not at the North Pole.

"Sometimes I'll say I'm here on vacation or checking on children," Greulich said. "If kids come to visit the veterinary lab, I'll tell them I'm working on ways to make the reindeer healthier. And for kids I may see outside the lab, I tell them I'm here working with engineers at Iowa State to develop new toys."

Greulich enjoys the reactions, but he especially enjoys helping those in need or those who have forgotten everything but Santa.

"I'll go to visit folks who are Alzheimer's patients. They may not know the names of family members, but they sure know Santa," Greulich said. "When I walk in the room, their eyes light up. It's almost like they are children again -- it's very heartwarming."

This year the Santa from Ames is spending the season listening to children's wishes at a mall in Orlando. He said he already has visited with children from 53 countries, collected lots of letters and is checking his list.


"Kids are pretty much the same everywhere you go. You may have regional differences in the toys they want. Everyone wants video games. Little girls still want Barbies and little boys want trucks and trains."

David Greulich