Family, friends pay tribute to ‘Santa Dan,’ a former Mt. Pleasant resident
Like his beard, Daniel Schultheis grew into the role of Santa Claus over the years.
He started out wearing a fake beard, but there was nothing fake about his Santa persona, his daughters said.
“My dad — you’d swear he thought he was Santa all year long,” said Valerie Handford, 48, of Connellsville.
Schultheis, who for decades was known as “Santa Dan” at the Greengate Mall, Westmoreland Mall and Idlewild Christmas in July, died Friday. Formerly of Mt. Pleasant, he was 76.
Among those who paid their respects on Wednesday at the Martucci Funeral Home in Connellesville was Chuck Hubbell, also known as “Santa Chuck.”
Hubbell, 67, of Connellsville attended calling hours wearing his Santa hat, Santa Hawaiian shirt and bright red shoes “as a tribute to him.” Hubbell asked Connellsville Mayor Greg Lincoln to post an invitation on Facebook for other Santas to do the same.
“It was something that I felt compelled to do as a form of respect and honoring him for what he was,” Hubbell said. “Being a Santa Claus is a brotherhood. … There’s a camaraderie that goes with it.”
Hubbell said he met Schultheis once or twice but was well aware of his 50-year legacy as Santa. Hubbell, author of “The Magic of Being the Claus,” has been doing it for 11 years.
“Being a Santa is a lot more than putting on a red suit and fake beard — it’s a lifestyle. He spent his whole life trying to create magic with kids. I can’t live up to his legacy just yet,” Hubbell said. “I have walked in his steps and followed in his path.”
Schultheis was born in Youngwood and graduated from Hurst High School in Norvelt. He served in the Marine Corps before attending Independent Baptist College in New York and becoming a pastor. He worked as a youth pastor at several churches, most recently at Faith Bible Church in Connellsville.
It was his love of Christmas and of children that prompted him to start being Santa in 1969, his daughters said. He once dropped into the Greengate Mall grounds from a helicopter, said his daughter, Darlene Ackerman, 50, of Latrobe.
Both daughters knew their father as Santa Claus from pictures showing him in full Santa regalia and them sitting on his lap. Later, their own children came to know their grandfather as “Pappy Ho Ho,” Ackerman said.
“Kids would just come up to him,” she said. “He had a big heart for children. He loved to make them smile and laugh.”
Schultheis also worked as Santa at Westmoreland Mall, for events such as “Breakfast with Santa” and “Movies with Santa,” and at the annual “Christmas in July” at Idlewild in Ligonier Township. The summer event was often difficult because of the heat, so he adapted.
“The first year he did it in his full suit. Later, he went with shorts, a vest with a white T-shirt and his Santa hat and boots,” Ackerman said.
Schultheis inhabited his role so completely that the Idlewild ownership asked him to pose as Santa for the park’s annual Christmas card, Handford said. He did that up until six years ago.
“He had the spirit of Santa, most definitely. Anybody would tell you that,” Handford said.
It is now up to Handford to fulfill her father’s wishes and find a new owner for his 25-year-old Santa suit.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .