As Santa, Monongahela man brings magic to holiday
Bob Mauer isn't your average Santa Claus.
He has a little something extra that makes even adults believe again in the magic of Christmas.
Linda Toscano recalled a customer at Toscano's beauty salon in Rostraver who praised Mauer's ability to turn even a Scrooge into a believer.
"He said, 'My children are older, and we've kind of lost the magic. But sitting here with this, the magic is back,' " Toscano said.
Mauer, 76, will enjoy Christmas Eve dinner with his family today, but he is looking forward to donning the red and white suit again next year. The Monongahela man has spent more than three decades dressing up as Santa Claus -- with his white beard and authentic chuckle.
He regularly visits Lone Oak tree farm in Washington County to spread Christmas cheer to customers. He visited Toscano's for the first time, on Thursday and Friday, while organist Jim Sykes of West Newton played carols. Children and adults awaiting haircuts gravitated to Mauer as he sat in a green velvet armchair.
Maybe it's his smile-inducing laugh -- "It's almost natural anymore" -- or his warm demeanor, the blue eyes peering down over spectacles balanced on the tip of his nose. Eight-year-old Artie Hoak of West Newton asked for a PlayStation game, something Mauer knows all about.
"He can relate to these kids," Jim Toscano said. "All year long, he must research the toys."
At Lone Oak in Carroll Township, Mauer has been listening to the wishes of children for about 15 years, owner Bernie Bucchianeri said. After the two men struck up a friendship, Mauer "offered to come up and be Santa," Bucchianeri said.
"He starts to count down in midsummer," Bucchianeri said. "He knows kids' toys like you can't believe. He relates to kids of all kinds."
Mauer offers Santa's lap every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas at Lone Oak.
"He just loves this sort of thing," Bucchianeri said.
It's easy to see Mauer's enthusiasm when he is speaking softly to a child. And it's even more appreciated when an adult remembers Mauer from Christmases past.
Children visiting Lone Oak have brought Santa presents, and college-aged "kids" give him a call while their families are at the farm, Bucchianeri said.
"I've really been blessed," Mauer said.
He got his start as a Santa Claus in the 1970s. A grand opening of a general store in Moon was planned and Mauer's friend, the regional supervisor, needed a Santa at the last minute.
"My wife convinced me to try it," said Mauer, who has been married to Sandy for 47 years.
"My wife loves it," he said. "She's happy because I got something to do."
That first time was memorable -- Mauer recalled with a chuckle that a child swore at him. That blip didn't deter him from buttoning up the suit for years after.
"From that time on, I never stopped," Mauer said. "I had so much fun that day."
That's why he looks forward to the holiday season.
"You can't really realize how much fun Santa can be," he said. "Kids are very, very easy to get information from and feedback, without them really knowing what you're doing."
Before listening to children's wishes, Mauer served in the Army. He entered the service at age 15 and was at Fort Campbell in Kentucky during the Korean War. He later spent 30 months overseas before leaving the military in 1958.
In the years since, Mauer has offered up his Santa services and refuses payment.
"I really, really live for my time, and it's like a vacation," he said of the holiday season. "It comes and goes too quick."
Mauer is always anxious for the holidays to roll around.
"I look forward to it more than anything in the world," he said, smiling. "It gives me a nice sense of accomplishment."
"I've had them walk away with eyes as big as silver dollars and say, 'That's really him,' " Mauer said. "Once you start it, it's too hard to quit."