Duane Adams first played Santa when he was a soldier stationed near Saigon during the Vietnam War. Every season since, Adams has visited schools, hospitals, nursing homes and parades dressed as the jolly old elf.
His Santa work begins in November and, like the real deal, he's busiest right before Christmas. He's always the guest of honor at Ogdensburg's annual Santa Claus parade. For Adams, most of the pleasure comes from giving back -- he donates all his Santa earnings to local charities.
Todd Moe paid him a visit during a day off, and found the beard, belly and generosity are all genuine.
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Adams said it feels good giving to other people, “for me it’s just a way of life.” Over the last 46 years, Adams' donations of "Santa" earnings totals well over $100,000.
About three years ago a little girl asked Adams to get her daddy a job for Christmas. Her dad was a carpenter, and the next day Adams called a friend at Ft. Drum, asking if he needed a one. The girl’s father was hired and he has been working there ever since.
Adams thinks more kids believe in Santa today than did 35 years ago. The kids really want to get a picture with him in the paper, so they can show their friends.
As Santa, Adams gets multiple generations of visitors-- a grandmother, mother and her children all together. He often asks kids their mother’s name. After they tell him, he can sometimes come back with "your grandmother must be 'Edna so and so.'" The child asks how he knows, and Adams might reply, "because she used to sit in my lap at your age, too."
Portraying Santa is Adams' lifetime passion. He says he will probably go until he can’t walk anymore.