WELLSVILLE — A love for children — not to mention white hair and a natural beard — made Glen Leimkuehler’s decision to portray Santa Claus fairly easy, he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed talking to people,” Leimkuehler, Wellsville, said. “The kids are great. I always love seeing their eyes light up when they see me.”

Leimkuehler hasn’t always filled in for the real Santa, who spends the busy holiday season getting ready for Christmas at the North Pole. It wasn’t until his own children had grown, he said, that he realized he’d be perfect for the part.

“My hair was white when I finally grew my beard out,” Leimkuehler said. “I’ve been a [stay-at-home] dad while my kids grew up. My youngest was 4 years old when I started and I needed a job and enjoyed being around the kids because I’d always been around my kids.”

But before he realized he had the ideal necessities for playing Santa, Leimkuehler said he had to fake a few things for his first gig as Father Christmas.

“I was the first mall Santa at Great Mall of the Great Plains in 1997,” he said. “At the time, I had to wear a fake beard.”

Leimkuehler’s days as a mall Santa are over though, he said. He now looks for work a bit closer to home.

“I was a Santa for the past 2 1/2 years at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center [in Kansas City],” Leimkuehler said. “The first 2 1/2 weeks there might be about five people a day going through the mall. And last year and the year before, I put 4,000 miles on my car driving from Wellsville to Ward Parkway for 30 days.”

Among other things, fear of bad weather played a role in his decision not to return to his post at the shopping center, Leimkuehler said. 

“Every time I’d be watching the weather to make sure I’d be able to get there saying ‘I hope I don’t have bad weather,’” he said. “There were times that if it looked like bad weather I made sure I had a sleeping bag and snacks there just in case I got snowed in.” 

Still, Leimkuehler isn’t yet ready to hang up the red suit. He has some work lined up for the coming Christmas season, he said, but hopes to expand Santa’s reach in Franklin County.

“I’d like to do parties and home visits,” he said. “I’ve talked to some restaurants that might use me during the day just walking around and talking to patrons.”

Getting Santa to drop by on Christmas day might be a little out of reach, he said, but getting children’s Christmas lists to the North Pole is another option.

“Santa’s not actually bringing things, he’s picking up [childrens’] lists,” Leimkuehler said. 

The idea came about when Leimkuehler was at a friends over the weekend, he said.

“I cooked some turkeys for [Leimkuehler] this past weekend,” Jake Howard said. “We had my daughter convinced that he was the real Santa and he just loved my barbecue so much and was on a short break from Christmas that he stopped by. He told her he was going to come back to our house after we had our Christmas tree up to get her list and wanted me to get other kids over there.”

Even when he’s not in his Santa suit, Leimkuehler still gets the same attention from children as he would if he were dressed like the jolly old fat man, he said, but he still loves the attention.

“It’s just really neat to see the children and how quickly they can change when they are coming toward Santa,” he said. “I can be wearing the dirtiest T-shirt and shorts and still get the same [looks from kids]. The kids can see through the disguises.”