Santa Claus Is Back In Town! Bob Gleisberg Brings the Magic of ChristmasNov 01, 2022 08:17AM ● By Dawn Gonzales
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
People of all ages are ready to see Santa again in person and celebrate the traditions that, for the past two years, have been modified or canceled due to COVID precautions. Bob Gleisberg, or “Santa,” as he is known to many in the Omaha area, is ready to bring back the magic of Christmas.
For over a decade, Bob has played the part of Santa Claus. Since 2014, he has made annual appearances for local nonprofit organizations and corporate events. Now retired from a career in the Air Force, Bob got his start playing Santa when his own children were young and the family was stationed in Terceira, Azores Islands, in the North Atlantic. He was asked to play Santa at a children’s Christmas party to which his own children were invited.
“I told my kids I had to work and would come to the party as soon as I was through. When my family showed up, my middle child heard my voice…and saw Santa instead of me,” Bob said. As a young girl, it ruined the magic of Christmas to discover that it was just her dad in a Santa suit. “It was painful for me, too. I decided that if I do this again, I want to be sure that I’m adding and not detracting from someone’s Christmas. That was 1993, and there was a big gap to when I picked up being Santa again in 2014,” he said.
Everything about Bob’s approach to being Santa is genuine and respectful of one of the most beloved figures in the world. He even graduated from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan.
“I have some of the natural characteristics of Santa,” he said. “There’s no need to stuff my suit! I’ve got a big belly and a natural beard and people thought that I would be a good Santa.”
Most of the year, Bob’s hair is salt-and-pepper. His stylist of several years starts the process of bleaching his hair, eyebrows, and beard back to white in early fall. He sees his stylist a minimum of three times, every six weeks, to make his hair snow white for the holiday season. Bob keeps the beard throughout the year, although his wife, Rose, hates it. But she’s on board because of the Santa gig, often accompanying him when he performs as Santa, though not taking on the role of Mrs. Claus.
“I didn’t want to be Mrs. Claus because you have to be demure…It’s just not me,” she said. Rose prefers a green dress with fur around the skirt and candy-cane-striped tights to complete her festive look. “Tinsel,” as she is known, can be more playful in this role. She still lets Santa take the spotlight and enjoys being the assistant. A former school teacher, Rose loves helping bring fantasy and wonderment to families.
“I see how serious he is about Santa. He is particular about the believing part of it,” she said. “It’s not that children should live in an unrealistic world, but that they should have something to believe in and something to hold on to.”
Seeing so much anger in kids today, her advice to parents is to hang on to the magic a little bit longer. “I grew up very poor…I feel for some of these kids. Even though I didn’t have anything, I can make a difference for others now,” she said.
Bob has worked with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Completely Kids, Omaha Children’s Museum, Knights of Columbus, and several others. His experiences as a Santa are those most would expect, complete with wish lists for toys, who’s on the naughty or nice list, and what the reindeer like to eat.
The conversations that stand out are the ones that make him realize not every child is seeking the latest toy. As Santa, he often takes on the role of a counselor when a child is struggling. He recalled a request from a young teen that warmed his heart. “We chatted but he was past the age of believing. He told me he didn’t want anything for Christmas but his family to be together again,” Bob said.
Another fond memory he recalled was that of a child with multiple challenges who had come to visit Santa. “This young boy was seeing-impaired, had mobility issues, and I’m not sure he could really see me…I held out my arms so he could touch my sleeve and he pulled himself closer to me to get more of the texture. We hugged for a time and it was the best hug in all of my Santa experiences,” he said.
Bob has had many wonderful experiences as Santa but none could prepare him or the rest of the world for Christmas during a pandemic. In 2020, he worked with a local news station that offered a drive-through family festival. “They had me seated in a sleigh, outdoors on a corner, and I was able to chat briefly with the kids,” he said. “I went hoarse because we were 15 to 20 feet apart.”
Bob made himself available via Zoom in 2020 and 2021 while people were still cautious about hosting in-person events. “The past two years, events were next to zero. I did virtual events in ’20 and ’21 but this year, the virtual business is gone; people want a more personal visit,” he said. And he is already making plans to make that happen. “I’ve been vaccinated, got both boosters, I even had COVID, and have taken all of the precautions.”
To boost his Santa-for-hire business, Bob joined GigSalad, an online search engine for performers and artists. The majority of his business has been word-of-mouth and he’s hoping the new affiliation will increase his jobs this year. With the expense of purchasing a new suit, dry cleaning existing suits, plus the salon visits, he needs more work to be able to pay for it all.
A report from the Washington Examiner in 2021 cited a Santa shortage in the United States. With so many Santa Claus entertainers at high risk to contract COVID, they have sat out the past two years or retired. Bob is ready for the demand.
A client for the past four years, Brittney LaHayne of The Honor Group at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, said he is fabulous to work with. LaHayne hosts an annual Christmas party for her clients, and they love the consistency he brings. “He interacts with the kids [and] is by far the best Santa we have ever had.”
LaHayne expects parties to be a bigger deal this year; more families are willing to go out now, and they prefer open house-style events. She recommends doing background checks on the Santa you intend to hire—which Bob can provide, in addition to his credentials from Santa School. She also recommends asking friends whom they’ve hired and their experience.
“My favorite part is always when he first walks in,” LaHayne said. “He is always particular about the location—a special spot to change and get ready. He makes a big show when he walks in with his jingle bells.” LaHayne said that it’s been fun to see how Santa interacts with her 4- and 8-year-old children. “They love him, for sure.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.