Dick Scott was the Santa Claus that everybody in St. Cloud and surrounding communities wanted to see.
For 18 years, Scott donned his signature red suspenders — but not a Santa suit — and filled the chair at the Crossroads Center where toddlers, teenagers and even adults came year after year to sit on his lap and share their Christmas wishes.
In December, hundreds of adoring fans unknowingly posed for photos with their beloved Santa for the last time. Scott, 73, died of cancer March 1 in Sanford, Maine.
News of “Santa Dick’s” death spread across social media sites, where scores expressed their gratitude to the man who made the holidays magical. They also shared a collective sadness that the man who loved children and took time to listen to them was gone.
Elizabeth Packert first brought her three boys to see Scott in the late 1990s when he started his gig at the St. Cloud shopping complex. The tradition continued every Christmas, including this past year, even though her sons are now 16, 18 and 21.
“I would not take them to see any other Santa,” Packert said in a phone interview. “He touched their hearts like nobody ever has. He was so kind. You knew he was talking from his heart when he asked what they wanted for Christmas. He made you feel like he was the real Santa.”
Scott was born in Portsmouth, N.H., and graduated from high school there in 1960. He served in the U.S. Navy for eight years before signing on at Honeywell. Scott worked there for 30 years. In his time off, he liked to bow hunt and fly model planes. He was a huge NASCAR fan, too. Before retiring from Honeywell, he thought about playing Santa Claus, and he started taking vacation time from his job to do so, said his daughter Lisa Fox, of St. Michael, Minn.
“That was something he always had in the back of his mind,” she said. With his warm, gentle demeanor, “he took the whole Santa character and lived it. He kept his beard year round and kept trinkets in his pocket. He had the Santa spirit.”
Lisa Villarreal and her son Caden, 10, said they were thrilled they got to see Scott and have their picture taken with him one last time. She had Christmas photos of them from 2005 to 2011, but none from 2012 or 2013. Scott had not been at Crossroads the previous two Christmas seasons. In 2013, he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor just a month after his wife of 52 years, Mary, died. During his absence, Villarreal collected Christmas letters from well wishers and forwarded them to Scott.
“He was quite possibly the nicest, sweetest man, who all could tell loved children and loved bringing joy to them and their parents,” Villarreal said. “He not only had the perfect look, but the actual spirit of Christmas to make kids believe he was Santa.”
Scott underwent radiation and chemotherapy. He recovered and felt well enough to return to Crossroads in 2014.
When we announced it, “people were really excited,” said Darcy Eigen, Crossroads’ general manager. “He knew how to read kids, and knew the ones he could joke with. He loved making people happy. This was his true calling. He was a remarkable Santa.”
The cancer returned earlier this year, and radiation treatments to shrink tumors on his neck and lower spine were unsuccessful.
Scott is survived by his mother, Isabelle Champagne, of Portsmouth, N.H.; sisters Beverly Biancuzzo, of Massachusetts, and Nancy Gregorio, of Ossipee, N.H.; daughters Lisa Fox, of St. Michael, Melinda Abbott and Theresa Tucker, both of Sanford, Maine, and Kelly Demele, of Riverview, Fla.; 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.