“I’ve embraced the role,” said Schreurs, 72, who has almost 50 long-distance races under his wide leather belt.
He’s known in Maryland as the marathon-running Claus with a cause. Through his races, Schreurs raises funds for charitable causes that he promotes on his Facebook page, such as Make-A-Wish and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, as the beloved neighborhood Santa, he would visit homes, pose for photos with kids and listen to what they wanted for Christmas. Sometimes he read stories to the kids. Last year, kids lined up at a friend’s barn in Olney to hand him their Christmas lists.
This year, Schreurs’s velvet sack is packed and his boots are shined, but when he goes on his dozens of appointed Santa rounds in Olney on the weekends, he’s doing outdoor visits and traveling in his bright red Toyota 4Runner.
This is a first for “Santa Steve” (as Olney kids and parents know him), but he’s hopeful that he can still keep the magic alive. He’s also doing Zoom visits.
“I’ll just do the best I can,” Schreurs said. “Even with covid, it’s important to me to put a smile on a child’s face.”
“Since becoming Santa,” he said, “I’ve learned you have to adapt and live in the now.”
Schreurs is a retired chemical and nuclear engineer who teaches art every summer at Fiber College in Searsport, Maine. But he came upon his calling in life naturally, he said, when kids began pointing at him and exclaiming “Santa!” four decades ago.
Never mind that Schreurs used to have red hair and a full beard to match. He could see that becoming Santa was inevitable, he said.
His wife saw it, too.
“He has had a full beard since well before I met him,” said Susan Schreurs, 72. She married Santa Steve almost 50 years ago.
“As we got older, or at least, more adult-looking, children would occasionally ask if he was Santa,” she said. “Now it happens all the time, with or without the red hat.”
Her husband will oblige if somebody wants a photo, said Susan Schreurs, who at times will moonlight as Mrs. Claus.
“Sometimes it’s an injured vet or someone who has a disability,” she said. “People let down their guard with Santa.”
Schreurs got his proper red velvet suit in the 1990s. It was after one Christmas season when he became popular with kids at his church while wearing a cheap Santa costume, Susan Schreurs said. That’s when she decided it was time to sew him one.
“She did a great job — I’m still wearing it today,” her husband noted. Thanks to his daily running routine, it still fits.
Although his beard has turned white, his hair is still red — the perfect mixture for Christmas, he said. But even when he doesn’t tuck his red locks under his velvet cap, kids still recognize him as Old Saint Nick, say those who know him.
“He has such an amazing persona that you really believe he’s Santa,” said Tsili Wolf, who lives in the same cul-de-sac as Schreurs. “You can be having the worst day in the world, and as soon as you start talking to Santa Steve, it all melts away.”
Although Wolf’s family is Jewish, she regularly invited Schreurs to visit her two girls at their home every holiday season — a practice that continues to this day, even though her daughters are much older.
Wolf has seen Schreurs in action year after year, not only with her kids, but with hundreds who have lined up to see him at community events in Olney. She nominated her bearded neighbor for a Greater Olney Civic Association award in 2018.
When Schreurs won, “practically the whole town turned out to honor him,” she said. “He’s honestly loved by everyone, young and old alike.”
Schreurs is a graduate of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Mich., but much of what he has learned has come from interacting with kids.
He remembers the time he went to a mall and a girl with a walker approached him with her mother.
“She said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to use my walker to say hello to Santa,’ ” Schreurs recalled. “She was in this beautiful dress and she walked over to me without her walker and gave me a big hug. Tears were running down her mother’s face. What a wonderful moment.”
There was also the time he allowed a blind girl with several health problems to touch his beard at Disney World, then later learned that her family was visiting the theme park to fulfill her last wish. Another meaningful moment occurred when an autistic girl sat next to him and “honked” his nose — the first time she’d ever interacted with a stranger, her mother told him at the time.
“That’s what it’s all about — that’s why I’ve embraced the role,” he said.
But since 2008, there has also been a more personal reason.
“That’s when I learned as Santa Claus that it’s time to say ‘yes,’ ” Schreurs said. “Because you may not have an opportunity to do that next week or next year.”
One of Schreurs’s two sons, Bryan, was killed in a car accident that year. The year before, Bryan had taken a fun road trip with Schreurs and his grandfather. And a few years before that, Bryan had taken a coast-to-coast motorcycle trip with his dad.
“We put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, drove to the Pacific Ocean and did the same thing, then drove back to the Atlantic and put our feet in again,” Schreurs said. “It took a month, but thank goodness we did it.”
Both of his boys never thought twice about having Santa as their father, he said. And now his two grandchildren are doing the same.
“They learned they had to share me at the playground,” Schreurs said. “In time, it got so they could point out a child who they thought might need cheering up.”
To help kids feel more comfortable, he always carries special Santa coins in his pocket, designed by him every year. Schreurs tells children to either make a wish for themselves or somebody in need after he hands out his coins, then asks them to tuck the coins away for safekeeping.
“I have them made in lots of 5,000,” Schreurs said. “One of the things I learned early on is that it took a lot of courage for a child to come up and ask me if I was Santa. I wanted to give them a gift for being brave. Something more than a candy cane.”
Sometimes he gets a shy smile in return.
“Even during a pandemic — especially during a pandemic — it brings it all home,” Schreurs said.
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