FORT WORTH — Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He's a portly gentleman with a white beard and a twinkle in his blue eyes. But he lives in North Texas, not at the North Pole.
"I'm proud of the name," said Santa Michael Claus, who was born to Irene and Charlie Claus on Oct. 20, 1947, in Kilgore. "It's unusual. It's opened a lot of doors for me."
"I embrace my Santa-ness," the Garland resident said.
The longtime phone company technician has had a lot of fun with his moniker, bestowed upon him by his sister. As the family story goes, Irene Claus, pregnant with her fourth and last child, asked her 15-year-old daughter for a little help around the house. In return, the teen got to choose her baby brother's name.
"I had to name him Santa," said Wanda Claus Peschel, 78, of East Texas. "I wanted to have a Santa Claus in the family."
Claus went by his middle name, or the shorter Mike, until he joined the Navy. And that's when things got interesting. Recruits were required to use their first names, and as Claus said, "You don't lie on Navy documents."
"When I got to boot camp, the company commander went through all the names alphabetically through the Z's and then asked if there was anybody whose name he hadn't called," Claus said. "I kind of stuck my hand up and he said, 'You must be the clown who signed up as Santa Claus.' The commander found it funny and from then on he was really nice to me."
After his four years in the military, Claus decided to keep his real first name in civilian life. His future wife, Joyce, whom he met on a blind date set up by mutual friends, looked forward to becoming Mrs. Santa Claus. But then there was a little hitch while they were getting hitched.
Claus and his new bride showed up at a Manhattan hotel on Dec. 12, 1970, to start their honeymoon and found they didn't have a reservation.
"I had never made a reservation at a hotel in that way," Claus said. "It didn't dawn on me that it would be anything unusual. When we checked in, we found out that the person I talked to to make the reservation thought it was a joke."
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