Christmas is over. Santa has delivered all his toys and munched on cookies around the world. He should be back at the North Pole, his feet up, resting for his next flying trip. But the Santa we know in Heber Springs—a Workamping Santa—is staying in town. Alan Tucker and his wife Judy are volunteers at the Carl Garner Visitor Center at Greers Ferry Dam. As soon as their appearances as Santa and Mrs. Claus ended for 2014, they donned their red shirts and returned for duty for the U.S. Corps of Engineers on Greers Ferry Lake.
The Tuckers have been full-time RVers since 2005. However, Alan picked up the image of Santa over a decade ago. The whole “Santa” business started when he drove his 1969 classic Volkswagen in a Christmas parade at Russellville, Arkansas. “I had a short white beard then, but I wore a red shirt and a Santa hat,” he says. “The image ‘took,” and I decided to look into how one becomes a Santa.”
Alan talked over his idea with Judy, asking her if she would be Mrs. Claus. Judy had not yet retired from her job in marketing for a real estate agency, but she agreed to play Mrs. Claus’ role on weekends or evenings. Alan went online to research the business of being Santa Claus and discovered Santa Schools. He attended one in Atlanta, Georgia, and came away with tips about caring for his natural beard and the correct way to position children—or adults—on his lap for photos. He also learned general ethics, how to deal with parents, and also how to make “Santa” into a business.
“I wanted to be a smiling Santa,” Alan says. “So I had extensive dental work done to create a winning smile. I also discovered the importance of Santa’s costume. A quality suit is more for the adults than the children, especially for photographs.”
Alan order his Santa suit and a red cloak from Adele’s of Hollywood, the same company that made actor Tim Allen’s suit in the movie “The Santa Claus.” He invested close to $1,500 in his outfit. At other Santa Schools, Judy learned how to make her costumes. She says they each learn as much from interaction with other Santa’s as they do from the instructional classes. Another Mrs. Claus gave Judy the idea to purchase tree skirts and convert them into capes. Judy has several outfits for different occasions: a red velvet costume for parades when the weather is cold and a plaid taffeta skirt with a red velvet vest for dressy occasions. Storage of their clothing for Santa and Mrs. Claus is limited in their 36-foot fifth-wheel. Judy says they pack the costumes into plastic bins for travel.
Alan and Judy are currently parked in the Volunteer Village at Dam Site, one of many parks in the U.S. Corps of Engineers Park System. They volunteer 24 hours each week for the Corps, filling in behind the desk at the Visitor Center. During the summer months, Alan acted as the entertainment coordinator, arranging for groups to perform in the small theater on Saturday nights. They chose Heber Springs because of the needs of Alan’s aging mother who lives in a local assisted-living facility. “Because my parents lived at Heber Springs, we were already familiar with the campgrounds around Greers Ferry Lake,” Alan says. “We know the town and area, and we often suggest different restaurants or businesses in Heber Springs for visitors who come into the Center. We also give out information about the National Fish Hatchery and different hiking trails around Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River.”
Although Alan treats his role as Santa as a business, he did not seek as many jobs in 2014, due to the death of his father and the transitioning of his mother to an assisted-living facility. He says they plan to stay in the Heber Springs area for as long as his widowed mother needs them. Ultimately, they would like to make a home base in Branson, Missouri. Alan keeps a list of contacts for his Santa business and typically begins making contacts to nursing homes, a chamber of commerce, schools, and churches about the middle of the summer. “There are more opportunities for a Santa than there are Santa’s to fill them,” he says. “One can work as much or as little as he chooses.”
Santa and Mrs. Alan Tucker Claus prefer to present themselves to nursing home residents and children with physical, emotional, or educational challenges. Alan says sometimes, it’s difficult to get a Santa to go to a nursing home. “Many nursing home residents are children again,” he says. “Santa brings back memories. I often ask if they got a doll for Christmas; I comment on a brooch a lady might be wearing.”
Many older people have never had their picture taken with Santa, Alan says. Following a party at a nursing home or an assisted-living facility, Santa and Mrs. Claus go to every room to visit with anyone who could not go to the common room for the Christmas event. For the past eight years, Alan and Judy have gone to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock on Christmas Day. They start at 7:30 and stay until every patient in the hospital has been seen. The hospital also serves as Arkansas’ burn center. “We start in the neonatal unit,” Judy says, “…and we go to every room, including the ER. We see patients from the preemies to a 92-year-old burn victim.”
The license plate on their car ringed with Christmas light decals spells CLAUS, so Santa and Mrs. Claus are easily spotted. “Since I wear a beard year round, I’ve had children run up to me in a store or parking lot all during the year. I tell them that Santa is on vacation,” Alan says. “During the Christmas seasons, there are simply some places I cannot go.
“We are providing a service and entertainment,” Alan says of himself and Mrs. Claus. “We are becoming part of a family’s heritage—a part of their history with the photos they make with us—with the visits—the secrets whispered.”
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com