XENIA TOWNSHIP — When Bob King walks into a room people notice.
It’s hard to miss him in his red suit, shiny boots and long white beard.
But then he speaks.
“Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas,” he yells from the depths of his belly.
Some people just know how to make an entrance.
“You will know I am there,” King said. “Santa Claus lets you know he’s there. He’s supposed to, at least. This Santa Claus does.”
And he’s been doing it for 41 years, continuing a tradition started by his father, Robert King Sr.
King, who retired from the City of Xenia about a dozen years ago, is known by many as Xenia’s Santa Claus. He’s appeared at businesses, residences, retirement homes and of course, Xenia’s Hometown Christmas.
He has handed out countless numbers of candy canes and had thousands of kids on his lap. He’s even danced with a resident of a nursing home.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like doing it for the kids,” King said. “The grown-ups are (also) getting into it so much anymore now.”
By the time the holiday season has ended, King, uh, Santa will have made 31 stops, many — if not all — with Mrs. Claus, aka wife Deborah King. They had 340 candy canes to pass out and had none left as of earlier this week. He had to turn away six this season due to schedule conflicts.
“If my schedule is open, I’ll be there,” King said. “I just do it.”
Do the math. That’s likely more than 1,100 visits as Jolly Old St. Nick.
Some visits last 30 minutes, some go two hours.
King doesn’t care.
“You’ve got to have time with the kids,” he said.
And it’s all done gratis.
“We say you don’t owe us anything,” King said. “We do not ask for anything. It’s for the kids.”
King gets a lot of joy out of it as well. In addition to seeing kids smile, he gets to have a little fun with them — and the adults.
“The kids that walk up, and the grown-ups that walk up, when I say their name, it just blows their mind,” King said.
A few years ago, King saw a contractor while making an appearance at an event and yelled his name.
“He said ‘who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Santa Claus,’ ” King said. “I didn’t tell him for three years.”
King also recalled his first time at a nursing home.
“They’re just there basically,” he said. “When I’m leaving and I give my last ‘ho, ho, ho’ they’re all smiling and waving.”
One year at a nursing home, King was there with an Elvis impersonator who was singing. One resident stood up in front of her chair and started to boogie. Then she reached out and grabbed King.
“Santa got a little too close to her,” he said. “Santa had to dance with her.”
But he loves seeing reactions like that.
“Couldn’t be better,” he said.
However there have been some appearances that don’t end as happily.
King remembered one time a foster child, maybe 11 or 12 years old, sat on his lap.
“All I want is to see my parents again,” King recalled the the girl saying as he teared up a little.
That’s one of the more memorable wishes he received from a child. He does hear his share of kids wanting their family back together or to have mom and dad stop fighting. But most are what one would expect from a child — ponies, dogs, go-karts, Legos, Barbie dolls, and robots.
But no matter the wish, Santa always has the same answer.
“I never say yes,” King said. “I’ll say ‘Santa will see what he can do.’”
And after four decades of doing it, he has no intentions of slowing down.
“I plan on it, until the good lord says I can’t do it any longer,” King said.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.