By Jen Calhoun
When Lee Weddington returned from a contract job on a pipeline in Ohio a few years back, he was proud to show off his newest asset — a full, white beard. “When I work away from home, I don’t shave,” says Weddington, who retired in 2004 after 29 years as a Kentucky state trooper.
The beard soon became a conversation piece around the Oil Springs area and in his own house. “I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen,” says his wife, Linda, who laughs when she remembers her reaction. “I kept saying, ‘Get in there and shave that thing off.’ He wouldn’t do it.”
Children, on the other hand, experienced something different when they saw the beard, Lee Weddington says. In church one day, three little girls came up to him. The brave one of the bunch whispered to him, “We know who you are.” When he asked who that might be, they replied, “You’re Santa Claus.”
“I thought, ‘Well, that’s that then,’” Lee Weddington says. “I kept the beard.”
Friends at Highland Church of Christ, where he serves as a deacon, also took notice of the effect he was having on children. When the preschool organizers asked the Weddingtons to team up to play Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus for a function about three years ago, the couple agreed.
“My sister said, ‘Well, if he’s going to do that, we’re going to need to get him a good outfit,’” Linda Weddington says. “But I wasn’t going to stand in the background with him getting a pretty outfit, honey. So, Mrs. Claus got one, too. We ordered them from Amazon.”
Spreading the Christmas spirit
Now, the Weddingtons’ calendar stays full through the holiday season. They play the jolly old elf and his wife at gatherings that have included a Christmas party at Foothills Communications, annual events at a local furniture store, the Shop with a Cop event in Prestonsburg and other appearances. “We do photo sessions for a couple of the photographers here where parents can pay to get their kids’ pictures taken with us,” Linda Weddington says. “All the money goes to a nonprofit organization to buy Christmas presents for children in need.”
Other times, organizations will offer the couple money for their time. When that happens, they give the money straight back to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati.
They also visit local nursing homes throughout the Christmas season. “People mustn’t forget the nursing homes,” Linda Weddington says. “They light up just like little children, too. They say, ‘Santa Claus is here!’ For just a few seconds, they forget where they’re hurting.”
“You gotta believe.”
Playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus changed the couple’s already sunny outlook on life, they say. “Every time we go out, we have a ball,” Linda Weddington says. “We love it, and we’ve got it down.”
Even without his Santa suit, Lee Weddington turns children’s heads around the country. On a June trip to Destin, Florida, store clerks at a Bass Pro Shops approached him with a request. “They said, ‘Hey, can you come down here and talk to this little girl? She was talking about Santa Claus.’”
He told the store workers he’d handle it. “I went to her, and I asked her, ‘Do you believe?’ She looked at me, and I could see in her eyes she did,” Weddington says. “I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and I told her I was in Destin for a vacation from the North Pole. She was tickled to death.”
He’s also popular in public places, especially when children are misbehaving, says Linda Weddington. “It happens all the time,” she says. “We go out in town, and he’ll put his finger aside of his nose or look at them. Oh man — they straighten right up.”
When they’re not playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the couple helps out with their church or acts in plays. They recently worked in a September edition of Story Patch at the old Oil Springs High School. Lee Weddington also works part time as a substitute teacher and as an inspector on gas and oil pipelines in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Weddingtons have been married nearly 20 years and share six children and 10 grandchildren.
Becoming Santa and his wife has brought more fun to their lives, they say. “It keeps us young,” Linda Weddington says. “You can’t just sit and do nothing, or you’ll curl up and die. You gotta get out. It’s changed our lives. All our children are grown. Instead of sitting here looking at each other on Christmas Eve, we go out and find us some love.”
They also realize how important it is to bring happiness to others, whether it’s family, friends or complete strangers. “Being Santa means loving and caring for other people,” Lee Weddington says. “You can’t quit believing. That’s the thing.”