- Cleburne Independent School District
CISD Welder in His Eighth Year as School Santa at Adams Elementary
Editor's note: This CISD news feature first ran in December of 2014, the first year Stan Berkley, a welder in the district's Maintenance Department, came to Adams Elementary as Santa Claus. Eight years later, he continues to bring cheer to Adams students at Christmas. The one thing that has changed through the years--Mr. Berkley no longer needs the white beard that came with his Santa costume--he grows his own.
Many of the students at Adams Elementary School believe they received an early visit from Santa Claus, following an appearance by Stan Berkley, a welder in the CISD Maintenance Department, who has been serving as the jolly man in red for years.
Berkley was first invited to come, as Santa, to Adams by his daughter, Holley (Berkley) Murphy, who is a first grade teacher at the campus.
“I had asked my dad if he could dress up just for my class because my students talk about Santa all the time,” Murphy said. “I thought it would be something they would love and something special for them to remember. I asked our principal, Mary Boedeker, if it would be okay, and she asked if he would be willing to come and take pictures with all our students.”
“I knew he would do it,” she said. “The day of his visit, I could not believe the excitement in so many of the kids. There were some who said they had never seen Santa before and they couldn’t wait.”
Berkley’s first appearance as Santa Claus was when he was in the fourth grade at Everman’s Bishop Elementary School. He portrayed the character in a school play presented by his class.
“I don’t know why, but our teacher picked me to play Santa,” Berkley said, “My line was ‘ho, ho, ho—uh oh—I’m stuck in the chimney.’ The plot line of the play was to get Santa unstuck so he could finish his deliveries.”
“It was fun,” he said. “My teacher had the Santa coat and hat, and my mom dyed some white pants red to finish my costume.”
More than 20 years later, Berkley found himself cast as Santa again, this time for the daycare center where his two daughters were attending.
“Nobody else would do it, so I got volunteered,” Berkley said. “Since that year, I have continually played Santa in our family, first with my kids, and now with my five grandkids.”
Murphy’s childhood is filled with Christmas memories of her favorite Santa Claus.
“I still have the picture of my sister and me sitting in Santa’s lap,” Murphy said. “I’m smiling and my little sister is screaming, not knowing Santa was our dad.”
His daughters continue to have their pictures taken each year with “their” Santa. Berkley’s son, who serves in the Navy, passes on such things, but enjoys seeing his children react to the man in red, unaware that it’s actually “Pepaw.”
“He definitely looks like a more authentic Santa now, at his mature age,” Murphy said. “Last year, my two-year-old was really into Christmas for the first time. The look on his face when he caught Santa putting presents under the tree was absolutely priceless.
When he walked into the living room, he stopped, looked and screamed, ‘Santa!’ Then he just ran to him. He had no idea it was his Pepaw. Then again this year, my dad was already dressed up and waiting when we took our kids for their Christmas picture. When my son, Ian, saw him, he was so excited he ran to him and told him how much he had missed him. It actually brought tears to my eyes and some of the adults who were also in the photo studio.
It was just a child showing that he had so much love for Santa, and wanted to let him know it.”
The responsibility Berkley feels, in his role as Santa, likely weighs more than the bag of presents he typically carries with him.
“I love being around the kids,” said the six-foot, 300-pound Berkley, who was often tapped to coach softball and Little Dribblers basketball when his children were growing up. “It’s mainly the babies that cry. Some kids are not sure about Santa—they’re not at ease and just ready to get the visit over with. I ask them their names, what they would like for Christmas.
You’re talking to kids—it’s just one of those things,” he said. “I look them in the eye, let them know I’m interested. I’m not much of a ‘ho, ho, ho’ Santa. I don’t think I do this as well as the ‘real’ Santa. Actually, it’s just about not being afraid to play the fool.”
And it’s a job he takes seriously. Although Berkley has always worn a trimmed beard or goatee, he chooses to wear the fake beard and long hair of the “jolly old elf” described in Clement Clarke Moore’s well-known poem, whose image first drawn in the 1930s in Coca-Cola ads became “the” version of America’s Santa.
“My suit was given to me years ago,” Berkley said. “It stays in a box in the top of the closet—with moth balls. We always air it out, get the wrinkles out, shake out any dust, give it a little squirt of Febreze. I bought new white gloves and fur-trimmed boots this year. You won’t believe how hard they were to find. But I want the kids to see the same Santa they see on TV—with a beautiful red suit and a fluffy white beard. I want their pictures with Santa to be pretty.”
He also believes dressing as Santa helps him in his efforts to be that welcoming character children--of all ages--associate with the holidays.
“I’m in character when I’m in costume,” Berkley said. “Maybe it helps me get out of my shell a little bit. I’m a very opinionated person. If you ask me a question, you’re going to get an answer—and it might not be the one you were wanting. I try to hide my soft side from people, except when I’m Santa.”
He also believes in the role Santa Claus plays at Christmas—but makes it clear that Santa shouldn’t play the lead role.
“Santa is part of Christmas, but I do feel it’s getting way too commercialized,” he said. “Everyone wants more and more.”
But that’s an adult problem and when Berkley is Santa, it’s all about children.
“It’s about the smile they get from Santa, not who’s been good or bad,” he said. “When they have their pictures made with me, I want to make sure they are smiling. Santa’s job is to spread joy.”
That’s just what happened during her father’s appearance at Adams, according to Santa’s daughter, who played his elf that day.
“The most heartwarming visits were from the kindergartners,” Murphy said. “Some of them went up to him and gave him the biggest hugs—they just about buried their faces in his beard. As a parent, it was amazing to see the pure joy on those kids’ faces.”
Describing the experience brought a tear to Berkley’s—and Santa’s--eye.
“Some thought I was their grandpa,” Berkley said. “Maybe their grandfathers play Santa, too. But I’d say a quarter of the children had never had a visit with Santa or had their picture taken with him. It made me kind of sad, knowing some parents won’t take the time or are unable to give their child that experience. Santa is an important part of childhood.”
“Sometimes, at school, we are so caught up in trying to teach these kids, we sometimes forget they are just kids and have so much more to offer than just grades on paper,” Murphy said. “They all just want to have someone love and care for them, and to give that love and care back to someone. I was so glad that my dad, a complete stranger to these children, was so willing to give his time to make so many kids happy that day.
There were several kids that came up to me afterward and said, ‘that really is Santa.’ My dad just has this quality about him that all kids just love, and are not afraid of. He is such a good man and the kind of dad I hope all of our students have in their lives.”
Adams Principal Mary Boedeker, hopes Berkley’s--rather, Santa’s--visits to her campus become a tradition.
“I know now how to get in touch with Santa,” Boedeker said. “When he’s not at the North Pole, he’s busy working in the CISD Maintenance Department.”