Published on December 15, 2020

Santa Bob of Sweeny

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Some adults say that once you get to be about eight years old, you find out that believing in Santa just doesn’t add up – and when you stop believing in Santa Claus, you get underwear for Christmas. As for me, I KNOW Santa exists, because I’ve seen his house in Sweeny.

This time every year, the house of FM 524 comes alive with Santas in every room of the house and garage, and Ann Butler once again morphs into Mrs. Claus.

At the house of Santa, you will always find a warm fire in the fireplace, a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or wassail and every imaginable savory and sweet Christmas goody Mrs. Claus prepares for her family, neighbors and friends who drop in. There is a Christmas tree forest lining the driveway leading to the house, and chalk footprints leading to the entrance at the front door because the garage is filled with Santas of varying shapes and sizes. The garage door stays down this time of year.

Ann’s husband, Bob who passed away in 1999, is responsible for this wonderland. You see, Bob was Santa not only to her and her kids, but starting in 1978, when Sears at Sweeny asked him to be the store Santa, he changed from a mere mortal to the epitome of the Christmas Spirit and truly became the jolly old elf. Ann started a scrap book of all of his Santa appearances. Santa Bob started out with the regular Santa suit, but the longer he wove his magic, the more he actually became the jolly old elf.

When Santa Bob retired from Dow in 1986, he even grew his own beard out. And the whole month of December, Santa Bob created magic. Even if he were not in his furry Santa uniform, he wore red jeans (which Mrs. Claus had to dye for him), a white shirt, red suspenders, black boots and a Santa hat. Wherever he went, kids’ eyes grew wide with excitement as they called out to Santa for a wave.

In 1995, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Santa Bob drove his reindeer to the Brazos Mall. The first year, his daughters filmed the magic.

The mall gave him the Santa suit they had been using, but it was too large, so he had to alter it. Then the illusion was perfect – real beard, suit that fit, real boots – he was Santa Claus at the mall until his death.

To this day, there is a “gift box” in the Santa set at the mall with the commemorative plaque that reads, “In memory of Santa Bob – Bob Butler 3-11-36 – 12-1-99.”

Along his journey, Santa Bob started giving Mrs. Claus little remembrances – little blue-eyed Santas, life-sized Santas and Santas of every kind. Friends and family also contributed unusual Santas until there were more than 2,000 Santas. Ninety-five percent of the Santas at her house were given to her.

Every Santa holds a memory for Mrs. Ann Claus. They all come out to decorate the house of Santa every year – for a while. Last year was the twentieth anniversary of Santa Bob’s death and was the last year all of them were displayed. This is because there are so many Santas that it takes several people starting at Halloween to take down everything decorating the walls or tables and put it all away in order to make room for the Santas. Then, when Christmas is over, the process must be reversed.

But it doesn’t matter if all the Santas are out or not, the spirit of the jolly old elf still brings joy and magic to all who enter.

And to borrow a few lines from Francis Pharcellus Church, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love, and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus.”

Those of us who have been privileged to share this tradition with Ann Butler are grateful.

For even in this pandemic world of gloom and doom, there still shines a spark of wonder at the house of Santa.

As for me, I DO believe in Santa Claus.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)