Here comes Santa Claus: Russ Wise continues Christmas tradition

Published 12:05 am Saturday, December 7, 2019

LAPLACE — Russ Wise did not expect to become the jolly, bearded man who brightens the lives of children each Christmas. It was a role he fell into and has come to love over the past 20 years, because there is no feeling quite like seeing a joyous smile spread across a child’s face.

Every year, Santa Claus brings holiday spirit to schools, daycares, hospitals and nonprofit organizations across the River Region. All appearances are done on a strictly volunteer basis, never for profit.

If you call Wise in the months leading up to Christmas, he will claim to be Santa’s friend who helps coordinate visits. The art of becoming Old St. Nick is taken seriously.

Wise was a volunteer for a local Cub Scouts pack around the year 2000 when pack business brought him to the St. John Sheriff’s Office. Za Maurin was working there as a public affairs officer at the time. He took one look at Wise’s short white beard and called out, “Here comes Santa Claus!”

Remington Spain jokes with Santa Claus during a LaPlace visit.

Wise laughed and said “Ho, Ho, Ho,” but Maurin responded, “No, you don’t understand. We have a red suit, and we need someone to wear it.”

Wise agreed to it, and he had so much fun as Santa Claus at those first two or three events that he bought a new red suit in preparation for the next holiday season.

He was also on the St. John Parish School Board at the time, and he let all of the schools know he was willing to coordinate Santa visits.

“Now we’re at the point where I will see between 3,000 and 4,000 children and hospital patients in this upcoming month,” Wise said. “There’s just something special about the kids’ reaction when Santa Claus appears. You can make so many kids so happy by doing nothing special except dressing up in a red suit. They let their imaginations flow, and it’s such a great thing to see.”

Harley Johnson shares a smile with Santa Claus.

Santa Claus was the guest of honor during last week’s Norco Christmas parade, and it gave Wise a wonderful feeling to see the kids wave and cheer that Santa was here at last.

He’s fortunate to visit two to three hospitals a year to see dedicated medical teams, newborn babies and sick children in need of a brighter day. This year, he will make one trip to Kenner Regional and two visits to Ochsner Baptist in New Orleans.

Santa has already visited WeeCare in LaPlace and a St. James Council on Aging Luncheon this week. Today, he is participating in a charity fundraiser at the St. Charles Animal Shelter and joining the “Running of the Santas” in New Orleans.

Charlie Roth gives Santa a big hug at WeeCare.

His itinerary for the rest of the month is busy, but he’s happy to bring a smile to as many people as possible. He will also appear at the St. James Boat Club, the St. John Parish Business Association’s Christmas celebration, the St. Charles Women’s Club Parade of Trees, the VFW and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, in addition to several local schools.

Willene Hobdy of WeeCare in LaPlace said Wise has visited as Santa for the past seven or eight years, and the children love him.

“He is the best Santa, and he has so much patience and love for these little children,” she said. “I think it makes such a wonderful experience for them to visit Santa and not be traumatized.”

Santa doesn’t visit private parties because he needs to keep his schedule open for nursing hoes, civic groups, schools and daycares. However, he will make exceptions in exceptional cases, such as when there has been a recent death in the family or when a family member is seriously ill.

Christiana Spain shares her Christmas list.

In past years, he’s visited families who lost everything in a house fire.

In one instance, a selfless neighbor made sure the family who had lost everything had a Christmas miracle. She called Wise, and Santa rode to the family’s rental house on a fire truck. Sirens blared and the truck’s lights flashed, lighting the way like Rudolph’s nose to deliver the family’s Christmas presents.

“Life doesn’t get any better than being able to do this,” Wise said. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

Each year, Santa expects to hear children ask for the hottest toy or newest video game system. Sometimes, the children surprise him. It’s heartbreaking to hear the requests of kids who wants their divorced parents back together or their sick family members to get well. Yet, it’s also inspiring to see the compassion the children have at such a tender age.

“These kids don’t ask for things for themselves. They ask for other people,” Wise said. “How sweet is that to know they are more concerned about helping somebody else than they are about getting a special kind of a present? Kids are naturally self-centered. That’s part of being a kid, but these kids see beyond themselves.”

Contact Wise at for more information on Santa appearances.

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