Daniel J. Seeloff of North Tonawanda sports a bushy beard, flowing white hair and has a laugh that could shake a room. His uncanny resemblance to the man in red has earned him the nickname of Santa from friends, passers-by and the students who ride the school bus he drives for a living.
Seeloff, who was born and raised in Wheatfield, spent much of his adult life working as a mechanic repairing heavy equipment. Today he lives in the house his father purchased in 1952. At age 57, Seeloff stands 6 feet tall and weighs 263 pounds. He loves to craft toys from wood for his grandchildren – just like Santa. And, after years of being called Santa, Seeloff finally bought a red suit.
On Dec. 21, Seeloff will be appearing as Santa at a fundraiser on behalf of Kyle’s Guarding Warriors, a group that helps various charities. The event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Wheatfield Community Center, 2790 Church Road.
People Talk: How’s the Santa business?
Daniel Seeloff: Not really good. I think people would rather go to the mall to see Santa because it’s free. I thought it would be neat to have Santa walk into your house, school or place of employment. That’s why I started doing it. I guess people don’t think the way I do. I put cards out and fliers. Pricewise, I’m flexible. Last year, I got one call.
PT: Why can’t you get any gigs?
DS: It’s too commercial nowadays for Santa. That’s the problem. I dressed up for my grandkids, and I wanted to surprise them but my son had them waiting in the driveway. He lives in Chautauqua County. I wish more people wanted Santa. I was looking on line to find Santa jobs. Last year I went to the new Walmart out my way to ask if they needed a Santa. They said they do it internally, just give some employee a suit and a beard. I have a real beard.
PT: You’d think a real beard would open doors.
DS: Kids don’t care about beards. All they see is my face and the red suit. When I did a school gig, the teacher told the kids not to pull Santa’s beard. Everyone said I look like Santa. I’ve got a couple red shirts. I walk into the mall, and little kids stare at me. I just look at them and wink.
PT: Have you always had a beard?
DS: Last time I shaved it off was when I was 17 and worked at Twin Fair in 1974. At first when it was a little darker and that, I used to hear I looked like Kenny Rogers all the time. I went from Kenny to Santa when my beard got good and white. I don’t know if that’s an upgrade or downgrade. I never trim it real short, but I don’t usually keep it this long. I start letting it grow out in June for Christmas.
PT: How did this all start?
DS: On the bus. One summer this one kid was questioning me because I had short pants on and sneakers. “Santa doesn’t wear sneakers,” he said. I told him it was too hot for the red suit.
PT: How long have you been Santa?
DS: Not too long, a couple of years.
PT: Do you get Santa gigs year round?
DS: No. There are some talent agencies I’ve found on the computer, but they require professionally done pictures. It costs $35 to join and you have to have a real beard, and you had to have at least played Santa for your grandkids. I just haven’t gotten the pictures done. I procrastinate a lot. I waited until after Christmas and bought a suit on sale. Hey, I’ve got the look. I might as well use it.
PT: I never saw Santa wearing a pierced diamond earring,
DS: It’s not a big deal. I can take it out. All they see is the big red guy. The boots I have now have fur around the top.
PT: How do you know what to say to them?
DS: I did one for my girlfriend’s grandson who was 5 at the time. We told him I was Santa’s helper. A lot of the toys kids ask for are electronic. I didn’t understand what half of them were. They’re rattling the toys off, and I tell them: “I’ll get the elves working on it.” I’m kind of quick-witted that way.
Plus I watch how the other guys do it. I go to the mall and observe. I learned to smile a lot, and I try not to laugh when they say something silly. That’s the hardest thing.
PT: Tell me about a memorable child.
DS: I asked one little girl if she had been good during the year, and she drops her head, sighs and said: “Most of the time.” I’m trying hard not to laugh. It was so cute.
PT: Tell me about your Santa moment as a child.
DS: I had an upstairs bedroom, and I always tried to stay up so I could hear him land on the roof. I always fell asleep.
PT: It takes a special person to be Santa.
DS: I enjoy the kids, the looks on their faces.
PT: Do you realize the place Santa holds in the mind of a child?
DS: Yeah. It’s amazing watching the looks on their faces when I walk in. I’m a big guy and when I walk by them their mouths drop open and they just stare. I like it. You know I transport special needs kids on the bus.
PT: What did you do before driving a bus?
DS: For most of my life I was a mechanic. I worked on heavy equipment like forklifts. Working on concrete takes a toll on your body. I have arthritis in my hands. I froze them, beat them up. I figured I’d go and drive a bus. I only get 28 hours a week.
PT: What’s your favorite TV Christmas special?
DS: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It was on last week and I missed it. My hero is Yukon Cornelius.
PT: Do you take pictures of yourself and send them out for Christmas cards?
DS: I haven’t done that yet.
PT: What do you want for Christmas?
DS: Peace and goodwill.