Locals share the spirit - and appearance - of Santa

By Greg Gelpi

A twinkle in his eye and a full white beard, Santa Claus himself appears to be everywhere as if by magic.

Seizing a little of that magic, many locals resemble the big man and share in the magic of the Christmas season, spreading the spirit of the holidays and playing the part of Santa's helpers.

By day, he sprays pesticide and takes on termites, but, by night, he assumes his alter ego as Santa's sidekick and Southern Crescent North Pole representative.

David Corley, 52, a termite manager at Maddox Exterminators in Stockbridge, finds it tough to go out to eat from Thanksgiving to Christmas ever since a hunting camp bet. His beard grew out of the bet not to shave until killing a deer, and his fellow hunters started calling him "Santa."

Corley touched up the beard at the barber shop, turning it white to add to the transformation.

Before making it back to his car, children stopped him, mistaking him for Santa.

"There's no better feeling in the world than putting a smile on a kid's face," he said. "There's nothing, nothing better."

Corley said he "accepts the responsibility," of looking like Santa, playing the role for charities, such as Make-a-Wish Foundation.

"I don't have time for the commercialism of Christmas," Corley said. "I do it for the kids."

Doug Lozel, who has dedicated his life to children, discovered a few years back that he is brothers with Santa Claus.

Lozel, 54, an assistant principal of Swint Elementary School, has been in the Clayton County school system for 25 years, but found his "cup of tea" with elementary children when he learned of his connection to Santa.

"Lots of people say (I look like Santa)," he said. "They say I have the personality and white beard and I'm sort of roly-poly. It's all in your heart and mind."

Swint students can't contain their excitement when he reveals his connections to Santa, Lozel said. He shares the news each year as he visits classrooms and reads to students before the holiday break.

"If I had arms 15-feet long, I would give them a group hug," Lozel said.

Bernie Morrison, an air traffic controller consultant from Jonesboro, starts getting called Santa Claus as early as summer time.

Morrison started growing a beard to look like Robert E. Lee when he discovered that he could be related to him, but as the hair grew in he appeared to look more like Santa Claus than the Civil War general.

With the addition of the facial hair, his co-workers began calling him Santa, and he placed a name plate on his desk with the name "Santa" inscribed on it.

Even when giving his name at a restaurant, Morrison can't help but play on his uncanny resemblance to Santa, often saing his name is Kris Kringle. At times the joke escapes the host or hostess, he said, but when the name is called many in the restaurant, turn, spot him and chuckle.

The children in Morrison's neighborhood call him Santa as well, and he has gotten into the habit of stuffing his pockets with candy canes to pass out to children who take him for Santa Claus.

"It makes me feel great," Morrison said. "I'm just so thankful I look like this."

Ellenwood mechanic Hoyt Chamlee shares the Santa resemblance and the joys associated with it.

"I like to see children when they're happy," Chamlee, 59, said. "It's the look in their face. We can't go anywhere without people coming up to us year-round. It doesn't have to be Christmas."

Children just open up when they see him, sharing about themselves and asking about Santa, he said.

"Where are the reindeer? Where is your sled?" children ask, Chamlee said. They also share more personal requests, sometimes asking if Santa can bring their parents back together.

"Kids open up when they see Santa Claus," he said. "They talk from the heart."

And while Santa, the real one, props his feet up by his North Pole fireplace and recovers from his whirlwind world tour, local Santa look-alikes rest up for another season of being confused as Santa.