If Santa Bob gets his Christmas wish this year, a brightly painted Van Go Mobile Arts bench will appear just outside Kansas University’s Schiefelbusch Speech-Hearing-Language Clinic.
For nearly 30 years, Bob Beebe has been playing Santa. And, while Santa has always been jolly, Beebe’s life has not.
Fourteen years ago, Beebe was taking down Christmas decorations from West Junior High School when he fell 65 feet off scaffolding and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which left him with physical and mental disabilities.
Putting on the red suit helps Beebe forget that and other troubles he has had in a rather rocky life.
“This is what is really keeping me going,” Beebe said.
On Friday afternoon, Beebe was handing out high-fives and candy canes to the wide-eyed children who walked through the doors of the Lawrence Public Library. Earlier that day, he visited with children at McDonald’s, where a boy told him he had been good for an entire week.
“I enjoy the kids,” said Beebe, who is starting to see the children of children who sat on his lap 30 years ago.
Beebe carries a string of bells that he shakes and has recently added a cell phone, pretending to keep tabs on the Naughty and Nice list. In his closet are three red suits, among them a vintage corduroy one from the ’60s.
“He is Santa, no question about it,” said Natalie Donovan, who is Beebe’s case worker through Community Works Inc. “He is not creepy. You got to love a Santa with tattoos.”
And Beebe does have tattoos. On the back of his hand is a martini glass with an olive, which he covers up with gloves.
Parents love Beebe, Donovan said, because he is a Santa who has learned to never promise anything. Instead, he responds with a diplomatic “I’ll see what I can do.”
A lot of sponsors help Beebe keep the Santa gig going. Skin Illustrations colors his hair and beard white. McDonald’s gives him cookies to hand out. And Big Bill's Automotive helps him keep his “sleigh,” a bright red 1968 Ford Galaxie, running.
Beebe makes appearances at grocery stores, local businesses and in homes. During December, Donovan has watched Beebe be the hit of many holiday parties.
“I think this is the point Bob’s year moves toward. This season is the part of the year that is the most emotional and the most fulfilling,” Donovan said.
Beebe said getting paid to play Santa would take the fun out of it. So that’s why he asks people to donate to local charities instead. Last year, his donations went to Just Food, a food bank he uses.
This year Beebe picked Schiefelbusch because he has spent the past three years being treated there for his brain injury. It’s taken Beebe nearly a year to work through the proper channels at Van Go and KU to make sure it would be OK to place a bench outside the clinic.
“One of the things about Schiefelbusch, there is nowhere to sit (except) in a clinical surrounding,” Beebe said. “Sometimes you need to regroup.”
It costs about $900 to have Van Go, which provides job training in the arts to high-need and under-served youth, build a bench. In Santa’s wildest dreams, Beebe would raise enough money to place 20 benches throughout Lawrence.
How to contribute
- Bob Beebe is available as Santa for office parties, home visits, pet pictures, grocery stores, preschools, day cares and for gift giving.
- To book Santa, send him an email at email@example.com.
- In return for his services, he asks that people donate toward a Van Go Mobile Arts bench at Kansas University’s Schiefelbusch Speech-Hearing-Language Clinic. Donations should be mailed to Van Go, 715 N.J., Lawrence 66044, care of Santa Bob project.