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A jolly old Jayhawk

James Joula

Submitted/Carl Kurt

KU’s faculty Santa Claus poses for a photo with Ted and Clare Peltier after a visit to their home to hear holiday wishes.

Like many parents, Carl Kurt wanted to do something fun for his child at Christmas. Little did he know, one year’s fun would turn into 28 years of holiday cheer.

Kurt, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, decided to dress up as Santa Claus one year when his son was young. Nearly 30 years later, he’s still “ho ho ho-ing” and bringing joy to kids at Christmas.

“My wife worked at a preschool,” Kurt said. “One year we checked out the suit and things just started getting out of hand.”

Kurt is a Kris Kringle who lives by the adage “ ’tis better to give than to receive.” He is not a mall Santa, listening to wishes from countless children in a day. Instead of serving as a Santa for hire, he visits only homes of people he knows and never on Christmas Eve. Whether it is the home of a coworker, fellow church parishioner or family friend, he only does it for fun. The guidelines are simple.

“The only rule is, somebody in the house has to believe in Santa,” he said.

In a given night, he’ll visit about 25 homes and hear the wishes of 50 to 60 children. Naturally, he hears the standard wish list items but also gets some good questions from inquisitive youngsters. Once, a child asked how fast the sleigh can travel. The “sledometer” read 550 miles per hour that morning, he answered. Kids often want to know where the reindeer are during a visit. His standard retort: They are at the nearest school. They like to eat the grass at schools, because it makes them feel smarter when they get back to the North Pole, he says.

Of course, no two houses are the same. Sometimes there are milk and cookies, sometimes there is a letter waiting for him. Other times, kids are skeptical. He’s been called out for his glasses, wedding ring and wristwatch on his visits. Of course, he’s always ready with an answer. One year, while doing an online chat as Santa Claus for the Lawrence Journal-World, someone asked if he could give the Kansas City Royals a power hitting center fielder.

“I said I was more into delivering presents, not miracles,” he said.

Once in a while he will make visits other than house calls. As a board member of the local Boys and Girls Club, he will often spread cheer at that organization’s events. Later this month, he’ll visit Pioneeer Ridge Retirement Home.

Kurt said he is often asked why he takes up the role every year.

“I thought to myself once, ‘Why do I do this?’ There are two main reasons: The first is to have a thrill for kids at Christmas time. The other is I get to visit 25 to 30 homes and know there are 25 to 30 houses where parents love their kids. And that’s better than the 10 o’clock news,” he said.

Kurt jokingly said someday he may pen the memoir “Confessions of a True Santa” to preserve his holiday memories. And though every visit is memorable, some are truly unique.

“It’s always interesting when you end up at the wrong house,” he said.

Given his jolly nature, they usually invite him in anyway.

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