Santa may use a sleigh on Christmas Eve but until then, he gets around on his motorcycle. Don't believe it? Take a walk near Straub Park, across the street from the Vinoy in downtown St. Petersburg, at about 9 p.m. between now and Monday. You're sure to see him climb off his sleigh and onto his bike when he's finished hearing Christmas wishes from visiting children. If you're lucky, you might get a kiss on the cheek from the jolly old elf. He's been known to do that. The official Santa of St. Pete is known off-season as Mike Kelzer, a 63-year-old with a real beard and a history of having a soft spot in his heart for kids. He and his wife, Kathy, who have four children and six grandchildren of their own, are medical foster parents who have temporarily taken in and cared for more than 300 kids, most removed from their homes by the state, until the children are well enough to be returned to their parents. It's Kelzer's first year as the city's official Man in Red but he's been playing Santa elsewhere for years, including at the Oldsmar Fire Station. We recently got him to take a break from filling his pack to answer some questions for us.
Patti Ewald, Times staff writer
1 How old are you, Santa? Please tell us some good things about being old.
I'm very old, even older than calendars! It is really great to have lived for so many years because it has allowed me to have been to so many places and have lots and lots of wonderful memories.
2 Where did you get that motorcycle and do the reindeer get jealous when you go tootin' off on it?
I asked my elves to make a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 motorcycle for me a few years ago. When it was almost finished, they took it to two special elves, Brian and Perrin, to make the seats. Then they brought it to two other talented elves, Robert and Reno, to do the artwork and the lights. Then it was ready for me. The reindeer are not jealous. They are happy about the bike. It gives them more time to play their reindeer games and to rest up for the big night!
3 What is one of your best memories?
I went to the Rays' second World Series game in 2008 and shared my cowbell with a little boy throughout the game. Since he was a very nice little boy, when we won the game, I gave him the bell and said, "Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" His eyes widened in amazement to see that he had been sharing the bell with Santa and that Santa is a Rays fan!
4 If you could have anything you want for Christmas, what would it be?
I would wish for everyone to be happy and healthy, especially little children who have been injured or who are sick.
5 What can we do to help you make everyone's Christmas merry?
You can give to each other from your time, your talents and your treasures. Most important of all, respect yourselves and be kind to each other. Then you will truly be Santa's helpers.