By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– When Bill Priest moved to Lake Arrowhead with his wife, Carol, he was just another “mountain man” with a beard.
All that changed in 2006 when two famous designers organizing the “Home For the Holidays” event at the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa gave Bill a chance to play Santa Claus in the program and offered to make him the “Santa Claus of Lake Arrowhead.”
Bill grew out his white beard a little, put on the fuzzy red and white suit, and made the perfect Old Saint Nick, so perfect in fact, that teachers at Lake Arrowhead Elementary School contacted Bill and asked if he could swing by the school to visit with the kids.
Bill borrowed the Santa suit and delighted the youngsters with a visit.
“That is when I got hooked,” he said. “What got me were the kids.”
That year he bought his own Santa Claus suit so he could use it for whatever occasions came his way. And come they did.
First, Jerome “Punch” Ringhofer asked if Bill could play Santa as San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department volunteers delivered holiday meals and donated toys to needy families in the mountain communities. Then the organizers of the annual Blue Jay Christmas Parade invited him to join the lineup as Kris Kringle. They offered to pay, but Bill did it for free.
Later on, he added Grand View and Valley of Enchantment elementary schools to his annual Santa Claus stops. He visits with kids, reads a story to them, listens to them perform holiday songs, and more.
As one might expect, the older students are sometimes skeptical that this is the “real” Santa Claus, so they tug on his beard and ask him lots of questions.
“You really have to be on your toes with the kids,” Bill said.
Bill also serves as Santa Claus at the Lake Arrowhead Country Club’s Christmas party for children. The Country Club pays Bill by donating to a charity of his choice. In addition, he and his wife dress up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus for an annual Christmas event Arrowhead Foster Family hosts with support from the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club for foster children and their families.
He even slips on the Santa suit in April when local contractors get together to host Christmas in April, which puts volunteers to work fixing up homes of needy families in the mountain communities.
Bill said he enjoys sharing the magic of Christmas with young and old alike.
“I try to remind them of that first gift that was given and why we celebrate Christmas,” Bill said. “You can’t forget that first gift.“
Bill is also Supervisor Janice Rutherford’s appointee on the Mountain Area Regional Transit Authority Board of Directors; however, he does not wear his Santa suit to board meetings, usually.