Rotarian George Gotto, Honored for his Special Service

Rick Robbins Presenting Certificate to George Gott with May Gotto at right


The Lamar Rotary Club held a very special program this past Thursday, January 19th to honor long-time Rotarian, George Gotto, as he recapped his thoughts on 39 years of vocational service as Santa Claus to Lamar and Prowers County.

How Most Area Youth Know Him

Gotto began his role as Santa in 1984, usually just donning his seasonal suit for family and some friends in his Wiley community, but as the years progressed, demand and his since of community service, especially after he joined Rotary, increased how he carried out his role as jolly old, Saint Nick.

Rotary Kids Christmas

“Area youth is a major concern of Rotary,” he told the January 19th gathering of friends and associates, which is one reason why Rotary has expanded its annual efforts to produce a Santa themed day in December.

“My wife May was shopping at Montgomery Wards in Lamar around 1984 and found the original Santa suit in a close-out sale display, all for $60.  I got the suit, plastic boot spats and a plastic belt and a pretty good wig and beard which I used as my hair was still dark back then,” he explained, adding that in subsequent years as his hair color started to shift, he used liquid white shoe polish to embellish his look, until he just turned all white.

“All this began as fun, but after a while, with the role, you become aware of how youngsters will react to you and around November, I’d start looking forward to putting on the suit again.”  Gotto has had eight suits over the past 39 years including hand made boots and a leather belt made for him by friend, Gary Peyton.  “It’s not the hair or the beard, but the kids will check out the belt and boots and if they’re real, that’s what makes the difference for them,” Gotto said.

Putting on the suit fosters my belief I can become who I really want to be,” a situation he said that came from a church meeting when those present were asked to write down who they wanted to be, and he wrote Santa Claus.  “When I put on the Santa suit, I believe I am being held to a different standard than I would be as just George Gotto.”

He said he’s witnessed just how sparse some Christmases can be for kids after having visited some homes in the area.  “I’d walk into a house and see there’s only scant furnishings, no tree and no presents at all and if it wasn’t for Santa’s visit and some simple gifts, those children would not have had any Christmas at all and just sharing with those children, I hoped it made a difference for them.”

After 39 years as a local Santa, Gotto is the only Santa many children have ever seen, from the Parade of Lights in the Enchanted Forest, to personal visits to their homes and more recently, the Rotary’s kids’ Christmas.  “I estimated I must have visited with over 20,000 children since I started doing this and at this point, I’m encountering adults who remember me from their childhood as well as some of their youngsters.”

Gotto said there will come a time when he won’t wear the suit, “Perhaps Rotary better start looking for a younger, more rotund, white-haired man to come into our organization,” he remarked.  He added, on his almost four-decade role, “This has changed the way I look at things.  Being Santa has made me a better Rotarian and has made me a better man, a kinder man than I would have been without it.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of LamarCity of WileyFeaturedYouth


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