A jingle of sleigh bells arose Wednesday morning within the Sisters of Notre Dame convent. Suddenly, from an opening elevator, sprang a jolly old man in a red velvet suit.
"Ho, Ho, Ho!" bellowed Tim Stapleton, 69, a veteran Santa Claus if ever there was. Clutching his candy cane bag and clairvoyant "magical" mirror, he began working his way through the sisters' Provincial House as he has done each December for years.
"Sister, have you been a good girl?," he asked Sister Jean Francis Boes, one of a dozen nuns gathered in the fourth-floor infirmary. "Are you not playing in the street? Are you eating your vegetables?"
Sister Jean Francis Boes, right, gets a treat from Santa, aka Tim Stapleton, during his annual visit to the sisters convent.
The sisters soon presented their own surprise to Mr. Stapleton: a proclamation honoring his 50 years of Santa Claus service to the community.
A Toledo native, Mr. Stapleton first donned St. Nick's suit in 1958 while on leave from U.S. Army service as a treat for his younger siblings.
That early suit, he recalled, cost $8.95 from the old Woolworth store in downtown Toledo.
Five decades, six suits, and some extra pounds later - "I don't need any padding anymore, let me put it that way" - Mr. Stapleton continues to make daily appearances at area schools, churches, and residents' front doors in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
He said he never charges money for his Santa services: "It's a gift that I can give back to the community. Bringing a little joy into the world, that's what it's all about."
Sister Mary Carola Billat peeks into Santa s magic mirror to see if she s been good and eligible for a treat. Tim Stapleton estimates he makes 200 annual appearances in his Santa garb.
Mr. Stapleton, who said he has no plans to retire, estimated that he makes 200 annual appearances in his Santa garb, and hands out about 2,000 candy canes a year.
He used to get his peppermint canes for free from Spangler Candy Co. of Bryan, but since his contact there retired, Mr. Stapleton has been buying them in bulk with his own money at a Toledo-area store.
Santa still can get a good deal there, he said assuredly.
A retired workers' compensation administrator for Libbey- Owens-Ford Co., Mr. Stapleton has lived in Oregon for 25 years, and has been close with the sisters of Notre Dame since his grade-school days at the former St. Michael's School in North Toledo.
The sisters also taught at his alma mater, Central Catholic High School, and are active in his church, Sacred Heart Parish in East Toledo.
Now he stops every year to spread cheer through their West Toledo convent after he "Santa Clauses" at nearby Mary Immaculate School.
Several sisters recalled how Mr. Stapleton once visited their own classrooms in full regalia, with a snowy white beard that still flows down to his belt buckle.
Sister Beatrice Ann Furlong, 75, former principal and teacher of Sacred Heart School in East Toledo, said he used to go classroom-to-classroom there hearing the children's wishes. Unlike the typical shopping-mall Santa, he emphasized the role of Christ in Christmas.
"When he got all finished, he would go to the front of the classroom and explain the birth of Jesus," she said.
Mr. Stapleton brings some unique touches to his trade. He adorns his hat with a sprig of holly like Santas in old Coca-Cola advertisements. He also carries a hand mirror, the "magic mirror," which forecasts just how naughty or nice children have been.
He recently finished writing a book. Titled A View from Santa's Knee, it chronicles 50 of the most amusing anecdotes from a half-century in the red suit. He said he hopes to find a publisher next year.
Dashing through his rounds Wednesday, Mr. Stapleton explained his theory on how the Santa phenomenon has four stages.
The first is when you believe. The second is when you stop. The third starts when you pick up the tradition for your children.
And the fourth stage sneaks up in your golden years.
It's what Mr. Stapleton said he is experiencing now. Fortunately, it makes his job easier: "When you start to look like Santa."
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