I am known as the "Santa from Santa's Village" ...but to me there is only one Santa Claus that is really Santa from Santa's Village and that man is Don Goers. An Algonquin, Illinois native, Don first came to Santa's Village in 1959 as part of the maintenance department. He started to help out "Santa" that same year by playing the part to give a day off to the main Santa. He is among the original gentlemen who played the role at the park in 1959.
Goers made "Santa" his own in 1966 taking the role over fulltime that year. As Santa, he invoked a jolly demeanor that was more a reflection of his personality making him a natural for the character. His wide smile and hearty belly laugh is was his trademark.
Spending twenty years at Santa's Village in the maintenance department and then as Santa, Goers saw the park grow from just a few rides and attractions to the addition of the Polar Dome and the "Coney Island " section. Each year, tens of thousands of children visited him in Santa's House and throughout the park. Leaving the park in 1979, he returned only once to be Santa again. It would be in 1994 on the 35th anniversary year of the park.
I met Don Goers as a child many years before I was to t become his successor. I would not meet him again until the Christmas of 1993 at Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, Illinois. I was the opening day shift Santa that year. Sometime during the course of that Christmas Season while out shopping, Don and his wife came up to the Santa set at the mall and started to have a small conversation with the photo operation manager. After this conversation, Don came up and introduced himself to me. Of course hearing his name I knew exactly who he was.
We chatted for a minute and I asked if he would stick around a few minutes as my shift was about to end. He agreed. After I was out of costume, Don, his wife and I sat in my dressing room talking about Santa and Santa's Village. We had a lot in common. The conversation lasted about an hour when we exchanged phone numbers.
Spring of 1994 saw Santa's Village celebrate 35 years of being a landmark in the Northern Fox River Valley. As the park's season progressed, I thought it would be neat if I could have Don come back for a day and be Santa once again at Santa's Village. After a few phone calls between us and he agreed. June saw Santa Don Goers return to Santa's Village.
The day started off with me meeting Don in the main office. (It wasn't like he didn't know his way around.) From there I took him to the dressing room where he changed into his costume. When he walked out in full regalia as Santa, you could see a little smile beneath his moustache. Standing in front of me was the Santa that I knew as a child.
Santa Don and I went out of the dressing area and over to Santa's House. I opened the door for him and for the first time in 15 years, Don was back "home" once again. He sat in Santa's chair and rapped his knuckles on the chair. It was of course the same chair that he and all who ever played the character had sat in.
I left Santa's House for a few minutes and when I came back, I glanced in the window. It was strange feeling peering into the house. There was Santa, in his house, just as I remembered him as a child. Walking inside, I felt as I had just traveled back into time. Don Goers had changed himself into Santa Claus and he had change me into a little boy once again. It was magic.
Don played Santa all day that day. A few newspapers came out to interview him. It was his day, but it was also my day. It is not too often that two people form different eras have a chance to interact and share some of the same experiences. Each of us got to go back in time for a brief moment. In age we are 38 years apart, but in the Santa's Village world we share so much and the same role. We will always be connected by that common bond.
I still see Santa Don every now and then. I enjoy the conversations and enjoy the fact that we have the opportunity to talk about the park. Of all my days at Santa's Village, the day I got to "re-visit" with Santa is by far my most cherished.