Daniel Lundeen spent his life doing various jobs, but it was his role as “Santa Dan,” which he discovered in his 50s, that he felt was his life’s calling.
It started when he had a part-time job delivering flowers. Around Christmastime, he would wear a Santa hat and whistle while making deliveries.
“Someone finally stopped him and said you should be a Santa,” said his sister, Marsha Lundeen. “It just sort of grew on him.” With his bigger frame, he was a natural fit for it. “It meant a lot to him to have so many people love him and not tease him about being fat,” she added.
He went on to become a Santa for more than 20 years, serving at Southdale Center, Maplewood Mall, Rosedale Center and Burnsville Center.
“I think one thing that set him apart from the other Santas is the twinkle in his blue eyes. He always looked joyful and happy, like he knew a secret,” said another sister, Jill Nelson. “There are a lot of people out there that have pictures of him in their homes and who would come back just for him.”
Lundeen, of south Minneapolis, died Oct. 7. He had cancer for many years and did not recover from a recent fall. He was 79.
Sometimes, children would ask him for mittens for Christmas — a request that made him sad since they weren’t asking for toys but for essential items. So he often had a stash of donated gift cards and other funds tucked away for such occasions.
Another memorable story that Lundeen often recounted was of a boy who asked him to help his dad stop drinking. “He said, ‘I don’t have that kind of power to do that, but I know somebody who does. Why don’t we pray?’ ” recalled Marsha Lundeen. The next Christmas, he saw the boy again, who told him his father had been sober for awhile. “When he told that story, he would choke up,” she said. “It meant a lot to him. This was his ministry.”
As one of the co-founders of the North Star Santas, a Minnesota club that promotes professional Santas, Lundeen was also an avid recruiter of future Santas. “He would see someone with a white beard and he would start talking to them about the group,” said Sid Fletcher, aka “Santa Sid,” who has worked at the Mall of America for more than 20 years. Lundeen helped grow the group to more than 115 Santas.
Born in Minneapolis, Lundeen was the oldest of six siblings. He often worked two or three jobs at a time to support his family, including odd jobs such as repairing lawn mowers. He also worked for a time with his father as a manufacturer’s representative selling electronics components.
Friends and family say he embodied Santa all year long. In the summer, he would participate in the daily parade at the Minnesota State Fair, wearing colorful short-sleeved Christmas shirts made by his wife. “Kids would get so excited when they would see him,” said Marsha Lundeen. “He would wink at them and give them a mint and would say, ‘Shh, I’m on vacation.’ ”
He also sang in church choirs, was a member of the Minneapolis Commodores, a barbershop group, and liked to fish and hunt. “But he couldn’t really talk openly about the shooting of deer, because, you know, that would be bad,” said his daughter, Faith Billington.
Services have been held. Among the attendees were about 25 Santas as well as some Mrs. Clauses and elves.
“It was pretty special,” Billington said. “And it snowed on the day of his funeral. We woke up and it was snowing and we said, ‘Of course it is.’ ”
Other survivors include his wife, Karen; son, Mark; stepchildren, Amy Payne and Eric Thomas; siblings Beth and Larry; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.