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Salesman begins another year as Santa Claus (w/video)

By JR Ortega
Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:03 a.m.

Working as a team, Marie Politsch applies makeup to Larry Runnels as the character of Santa comes to life.  Runnels, a car salesman at Atzenhoffer, with his white hair and mustache, has been Santa Claus for 10 years,  appearing at community events like the Victoria Jaycees Christmas Shopping Tour and private parties.

Larry Runnels' blue eyes don't call any special attention, but top him off with a red velvet hat and a snow white beard, and he suddenly has a twinkle in his eyes.

The 66-year-old is no longer himself - he's Santa Claus.

"Here you go, Santa," said his schedule planner, Marie Politsch. "Sit right here."

Politsch often forgets that Runnels is under the cheery suit; she even blushes as she fixes his beard and flattens down his heavy overcoat.

Runnels, a car salesman of 23 years at Atzenhoffer in Victoria, has been Santa Claus going on 10 years.

A worker was having a family reunion, he said, and asked whether he would be their Santa.

He did, and since then, he's performed at various community functions, the biggest being the Victoria Jaycees Christmas Shopping Tour, an event that supports children through the Devereux Foundation.

"I like keeping with the tradition," Runnels said, dressing for the first time in a year at his Victoria townhouse. "I like making sure the kids have a good experience with Santa."

Politsch's five-year association with Runnels has been an emotional one.

Politsch's late husband, Preston "Pepper" Politsch, played Santa Claus off and on in Victoria from 1980 to 1999.

In 1999, he became terminally ill and was not able to make one of his events.

Politsch never thought she would find a perfect Santa, but then she found Runnels.

"He's a special Santa," Politsch said, a childlike smile breaking across her face. "He's elite."

Some of Politsch's free time is spent helping make sure Runnels is dressed and ready to go for his events.

Aside from the Jaycees event, Runnels also does Christmas events with the country clubs and private parties, he said.

Being jolly ol' Saint Nick is not as easy as it may sound, Runnels said.

One time, Runnels became dehydrated and nearly passed out from the weight and thickness of the nearly $400 suit.

Also, while most kids ask for the latest toys and gadgets, he has some that want something really genuine - something he can't promise.

"Some will ask to be with their family," he said of some of the kids with the Devereux Foundation.

Being Santa is not only about making kids gleeful with the Christmas spirit, Runnels said - it's also about him.

In 1988, Runnels' 8-year-old daughter died after a cancer battle at MD Anderson in Houston.

The one thing Runnels remembers is how jolly the staff made the cancer treatment center during the holidays.

"This is my way of paying back," he said.



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