The story behind Santa Joe
Santa Claus and Christmas have a special meaning to Santa Joe. Below, he shares his story of why he decided to become Santa, and how bringing joy to children at Christmas has changed him forever.
On December 19, 2010 my brother, David Fordham, passed away. He was my mentor, friend, coach, business partner, my right arm, and a Santa. We were five and a half years apart in age. Being older than me, he had a much harder road to hoe than I did. We grew up in a small cotton mill town, and struggled to make ends meet. He started to work when he was 10 years old. He cut grass in the summers and bagged groceries in the winters.
He bought us a bedroom suite when he was 11 years old, and he bought my first bicycle, a 24” Western Auto Red Flyer. He was the hardest working man I have ever known. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur at a young age, and his doctor wouldn’t allow him to play sports. I, on the other hand,was the picture of health, blessed with natural athletic ability, and among other things, a strong will to survive.
That will to survive came from those years that our age separation was “detrimental”to my health. At 14, he could throw a blazing fast ball. And I, at only 8 years old, had to catch it! Those years made me a much better ball player all the way through my teenage years. Instead of being jealous of my abilities, or bitter about his inability to play organized sports, he decided to coach my teams. I eventually went to college on an athletic scholarship, in large part due to the hours we spent playing sports as well as the years he put into coaching me.
David always seemed older than his years. He had hernia surgeries, and back problems in his mid-20s but he kept right on working. He had two daughters and he worked tirelessly at Eastern Airlines to provide for them. After working up to 60 hours a week, he would come home, split firewood, and sell it for 40 bucks a pickup load, as he called it, “delivered and stacked”. We built his house together, literally and physically: rock-work, framing, sheet rock, and roofing. And he helped me do the same years later.
David Fordham as Santa Claus
We did everything together: hunting, fishing, golf, and work. I started a business in 1988, and he joined me the next year. We worked together for 22 years. I used to say that he could wear three people out just following him around and watching him work.
If you ever saw the movie “Big Fish”, it reminds me of David. He was the best story teller I knew. Everyone that knew him would tell you the same. When you thought he might be stretching the truth, you would have someone out of the blue and in passing conversation confirm what he had told, without even realizing it. You would just smile to yourself without letting them in on the secret. That’s another thing… he had no secrets. His life was an open book, and that openness helped him befriend so many people, and gain their trust and confidence.
David was principled, and he was honest and charitable. After his passing, I’ve heard from people how he secretly helped them financially, or had done work for them unbeknown to anyone else.
In August of 2007, his daughter, Heather, and her husband, Jeff, had twins, Sadie and Olivia. They were 2months premature, and weighed only 2 lbs., and 2 lbs., 4 oz. There were days that we wondered if they would survive. As summer turned into fall, David started letting his hair and beard grow.
When the girls finally came home, he put on a Santa hat and visited them at every chance he could get. It was then he decided to become Santa. He enrolled in the Charles W. Howard Santa school in Midland, Michigan, the following October and he was smitten. He often expressed the sheer joy it gave him when a child would run to embrace him. He would go to the local Walmart and just hand out candy in the parking lot to the kids passing by. He did charity work for the Marines and Toys for Tots. I helped him with several appearances over the years. It was as happy as I have ever seen him.
His health continued to decline over the first 3 years of his granddaughters’ lives: a heart stint, back surgery, hip replacement, surgery for prostate cancer, and diverticulitis. The latter really caused some terrible problems, so he decided to have surgery in the early fall of 2010. Two weeks prior, I had snapped my bicep tendon and was operated on two days before he went in the hospital. He was by my side when they took me to surgery. It was my first operation as opposed to his 15th or 16th. His operation did not go well. His intestines would not heal. After the first week, he needed another surgery, and still his body would not heal. He eventually had four surgeries trying to get his intestines functioning.
I stayed with him every day for 55 days in intensive care. It was life-or-death for so many days. Eventually he succumbed to a heart attack on December 19, 2010. He was holding my hand, and we were staring into each others eyes as he closed his for the last time.
His daughters and I decided to start a college fund in his honor, “The Santa David Scholarship Fund”. It was funded by donations given in lieu of flowers. $4000 was raised and I made sure that every penny donated would go directly to the recipients. For two years, we able to give a $2000 scholarship. The course of this fund was soon to change.
Throughout our marriage my wife, Dawn, has encouraged me about the idea of portraying Santa. I have always related well to kids and have fun ways of breaking the ice with them and engaging them. I find myself gravitating toward the children when both adults and kids are in attendance at gatherings. I have always been able to grow a beard, and while the thought had crossed my mind a time or two, since the death of my dear brother I didn’t have the heart or the will to don the red suit.
In March 2012, I learned that I too had prostate cancer. I was facing surgery and was on the verge of deciding the date, when I asked the surgeon to review the side effects. He mentioned the possibility that the intestines could stick to any of the robotic arms used and that could cause a kink. He said it was a rare complication but if so, they would have to operate to fix the kink. Talk about a God shot! I decided to research my options further, and am thankful I did.
I found the “smart bomb”of radiation--Proton Therapy: a radiation beam that is shaped to the tumor and deposits its energy in the tumor without passing through the rest of your body. While it was great news for me, I didn’t realize what that meant for children’s cancer until I went to the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.
The day I walked in the doors and saw the first bald-headed girl, playing in the lobby with their myriad of toys and art projects, I knew I was lead there for a reason. My eyes filled with tears, and I thanked the Lord for bringing me to UFPTI. I also knew that if David were alive, he would want to help these children.
It was then I decided I could carry on his legacy as a Santa. I used to feel that by doing so, I would somehow be stealing some of David’s thunder. Now I know that with the new charity I am starting, “The Santa David Children’s Fund”, it will only help to make his thunder better known.
Thanks for reading,