Long­time Santa:

Buda real es­tate agent takes his sea­sonal side job se­ri­ously.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ciara O’Rourke corourke@states­man.com

A Buda real es­tate agent who has been play­ing Santa Claus pro­fes­sion­ally since 1994 talks about his side job.

KYLE — Santa eats grass-fed beef.

At least the Buda real es­tate agent who plays him does.

He used to be a fast-food junkie, but bur­dened with di­a­betes and other ail­ments, he elim­i­nated pro­cessed foods from his diet.

Be­fore his red beard faded, he used correction fluid to hide the color.

He’s shaved only twice in his en­tire life.

His real name is Bruce King, and he’s played Santa Claus pro­fes­sion­ally since about 1994.

His busi­ness card blends both worlds. Os­ten­si­bly, it ad­ver­tises his ser­vices as a Keller Wil­liams agent, point­ing re­cip­i­ents to his web­site, www.brucek­ingsells.com, and a sim­i­lar Hot­mail ad­dress.

To the left is a por­trait of King, 59, with a ruddy face, wear­ing a Santa hat and smil­ing. He’s hold­ing his dog, Chaser, a bi­chon frisé whose small, pink tongue is show­ing just enough so that he seems to be smil­ing too.

King’s beard is shorter in the photo than it was ear­lier this month at the Kyle Pub­lic Li­brary for “Story Time With Santa Claus.” He trims about 4 inches off af­ter Christ­mas and spends the rest of the year grow­ing it out again.

Right now it reaches the top of his vest, a red num­ber cov­ered in tiny rein­deer that he wears over a white but­tonup. He has four red suits, but lately he’s stopped wear­ing the jacket and white gloves donned by de­part­ment store San­tas. He thinks it scares chil­dren not to see his hands, and so far, the ex­per­i­ment seems to be a success. He es­ti­mates he’s seen 80 per­cent fewer cri­ers this year.

Pos­ing for photo af­ter photo at the li­brary, King smiles bravely at the cam­era as 2year-olds with tears rolling down their cheeks roar in his lap. He ca­joles the shyest chil­dren into telling him what they want for Christ­mas.

He was re­lieved when one boy asked for a pogo stick.

Al­most ev­ery­one wants some­thing Justin Bieber, some­thing elec­tronic or some­thing with a re­mote con­trol, he said. “PS3 or PSP or what­ever.”

Wes­ley Tamez, a fifth-grader from Kyle, said he asked for a Lego re­mote-con­trol train.

“It comes with a lot of track,” he ex­plained.

He was one of about 200 chil­dren who lined up that day to see Santa at the li­brary, their par­ents sad­dled with diaper bags and clap­ping their hands to en­cour­age smiles.

He av­er­ages about 50 such gigs a year at $100 per hour. But he said he won’t turn peo­ple down if they can’t af­ford to pay him.

He’s been giv­ing since he was a teenager. His fa­ther died when he was 13, a few months af­ter his brother Michael was

Al­most ev­ery­one wants some­thing Justin Bieber, some­thing elec­tronic or some­thing with a re­mote con­trol, Santa said.

born. It was then that King started spend­ing all the money he earned on his new sib­ling for Christ­mas. He worked at the Isle of Capri, an Ital­ian restau­rant. It was his first job.

He takes his work as Santa just as se­ri­ously. He’s cre­at­ing mem­o­ries for chil­dren that could last a life­time, he said. He still gets chills remembering the look on the face of his friend’s son, who woke up to find him rustling un­der their Christ­mas tree.

“It’s a pretty im­por­tant job,” he said.

Com­pa­nies hire him for gift

ex­changes. He’s a reg­u­lar at apart­ment com­plexes and se­nior cen­ters. When he first per­formed at the Dell Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter, he said, he walked away with the fullest heart he’s ever had.

Some days, he never takes his cos­tume off.

But he said he never planned to be Santa. It’s just that once his beard started to gray, chil­dren con­fused him for the hol­i­day fig­ure­head, and peo­ple started ask­ing him to come to par­ties in cos­tume.

“They picked me to be Santa,” he said.

Stat­ues of his name­sake dec­o­rate his home, and a door­mat with the words “joy, peace and love” lies in front of his en­try­way.

Re­cently he moved into a com­mu­nity for peo­ple over age 55. He’s started play­ing bingo, and he’s a huge fan of “Amer­i­can Idol” and “The Voice.”

Not that he has much spare time to­ward the end of the year. Christ­mas Eve is usu­ally packed with as many as 12 ap­pear­ances at peo­ple’s homes, he said. Driv­ing to the last one can bring tears to his eyes. It’s the end.

“In Jan­uary, I’ve al­ways got a full heart,” he said. “It’s been an ab­so­lute gift to spread joy.”

Even­tu­ally, he’ll trim his beard. The new sea­son of “Amer­i­can Idol” will pre­mier. The dog groomer he hires once a week to keep Chaser clean and cut will come.

And in a few hun­dred more days, when his beard has grown out once more, he’ll put on a suit, smile and pose.

Bruce King as Santa Claus holds Ryan Gilkey at the Kyle Pub­lic Li­brary. King plays Santa at the li­brary, com­pa­nies hire him for gift ex­changes, and he’s a reg­u­lar at se­nior cen­ters. RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Bruce King reads ‘The Night Be­fore Christ­mas’ to more than 200 chil­dren and par­ents at the Kyle Pub­lic Li­brary. Af­ter­ward, the chil­dren got their pic­tures taken with Santa.

PHO­TOS BY RalPH BaRReRa / ameR­i­Can-STaTeS­man

At­ti­cus Banks, 3, of San Mar­cos, got a candy cane af­ter sit­ting with Santa.

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