PLATTSBURGH — Ron Wood was a teenager in 1955 when his history teacher, Frank Cooper, asked him to don a Santa outfit and "Ho-Ho-Ho" for the kiddies.
He borrowed a red Santa suit from Kresge's Department Store in Plattsburgh, but his slender physique required him to tuck a pillow into the jacket, which slipped with the first "Ho."
At another appearance, his "reindeer," including friend Jim Andre on roller skates, pulled the sleigh so fast it clipped the wall, jostling Santa and sleigh. Santa's appearances since those early days have been much more refined.
SINGING SANTA FAMILY
After an Army stint, he married his wife, Sharon, and the Woods family increased by three — Cindy, Michelle and Ron II. Thus, they became the Singing Santa Family.
Fifty years later, Singing Santa Ron is still sharing Christmas fun and music, with another generation.
"The school kids from the '50s and '60s now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren," he said from his easy chair. "It's wonderful!"
The Woods children were young when they joined their dad and mom at performances. Cindy was named "Snowball," Michelle was "Snowflake," Ron II took the name "Popcorn," and Sharon, of course, was Mrs. Claus. It was a grand production to pull together.
"I don't know how Sharon did it all those years when we were all together," he said, smiling at his wife. "She'd glue on my eyebrows and custom beard in one part of the house, I'd head out the door, then she'd get the kids dressed and then get herself ready, and we'd all get there on time."
Ron said Sharon plays a very important role as Mrs. Claus. She sings the harmony with Ron, who plays Christmas songs on ukulele, and reads stories. A former school teacher, she has a natural ability to understand the children and keep their attention, telling them special Christmas tales.
Over the years, a couple of Ron's friends have added their own special characters to the entertainment. Ronald LaDuke, "Jingles," was a Santa's helper, organizing the kids until Santa made his appearance.
Another friend, Carl Kokes, "Fiddlesticks," added special music on his fiddle. Santa's grand entrance was enhanced when Kokes would build the drama, one sound effect at a time, until the kids burst into cheers when Santa came into the room.
The changes by school administrations concerning Christmas plays and concerts has brought a feeling of sadness to Ron and Sharon. The couple used to perform for about 1,000 children each season at public schools, but that number is now down to about 500.
"It's very sad to keep that fun away from the children," Ron said.
Eventually, when the Woods's children approached teen years, they opted out of the tights and chamber-maid hats, but Mom and Dad continued on with the performances. This year's appearances are fewer than last year but include seven McDonald's in New York and Vermont, parochial schools and homes.
CHEERING UP CHILDREN
The Woods also chose to take their love of Christmas to hospitals. Two children, in particular, will never be forgotten. One young boy was badly burned and hadn't talked. They sang him a song, and he said, "Sing another song, please," much to the amazement of all in the room. Another time, a 10-year-old girl was dying, and the nurses reported she hadn't smiled since coming to the hospital. "Popcorn" sang a song for her, and she smiled from ear to ear.
LOVE AND LAUGHTER
The show nearly ended in 1999 when Ron had to undergo a triple bypass. It slowed him down but didn't stop him, Sharon said. In November 2010, another heart attack hit him, and if it weren't for the defibrillator inserted earlier, he may not have been here to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary last January or Singing Santa's 50th year.
With seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren to share Christmas with, the Wood's house has one room after another decorated with Christmas trees, singing Santas, dancing Santas, a Christmas village and even a Charlie Brown tree.
When asked why he has kept going for 50 years as the Singing Santa, Ron's answer is simple.
"I love children," he said, his eyes moist. "I have always loved to see children laugh and have a good time. Music, small gifts, Santa, the Christmas story, what a way to have a good time."
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