In the Nick of Time!

Santa’s Meeker helper has been spreading holiday cheer for years
It has been the ultimate feel-good job.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” Gerald Morris said. “I just do it for the enjoyment of putting a sparkle in kids’ eyes. It makes you feel good.”
Dressed in the familiar red suit and white beard — and driving a four-wheeler, or a snowmobile if there’s a lot of snow on the ground — Morris makes his appointed rounds.
For the past 52 years, he’s been spreading holiday cheer.
“It started out in the fifth-grade,” Morris said. “The principal asked if somebody wanted to be Santa Claus for the first-graders. Nobody raised their hand, so I did. I thought it was fun. I’ve never missed a year putting the suit on ever since.”
Morris moved his family to Meeker in 1966. The community has been good to him, he said, and being Santa is one way he can return the favor. He spends hundreds of dollars each year to buy gifts for “Santa” to hand out to children.
“That’s a small token to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s my turn to give back.”
Last Saturday, Morris helped distribute presents to needy children as part of the Giving Tree program, sponsored by the Meeker United Methodist Church.
“This is the fun part,” Morris said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Santa gets around. Later in the day, he walked through a restaurant, handing out presents — stuffed animals, Hacky Sacks, miniature footballs — to the kids. And that night he made an unannounced appearance at a company Christmas party, passing out more gifts.
Then, with a ho-ho-ho and a “Merry Christmas,” he was off to his next stop.
With the temperature in the single digits last weekend, Morris wore his cold-weather Santa suit.
“I have two suits. I have an inside suit and outside suit,” Morris said. “I wear the heavy set when I’m outside.”
Earlier this month, Morris had 360 children come through the fairgrounds to sit on Santa’s lap during “Breakfast with Santa,” sponsored by the Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Park and Recreation District.
“This ol’ man was wringing wet, boy,” Morris said. “I was soaked to the skin.”
For two and a half hours, Morris listened attentively as each wide-eyed child took a turn telling Santa what he or she wanted for Christmas.
“I try to talk to each one,” Morris said. “You just have to put yourself in their world, not the adult world. But sometimes I can’t hear what they’re saying, because my hearing aids don’t work.”
Morris said by the time kids reach the age of 10, many of them stop believing in Santa Claus.
“By the time they are in about the fourth-grade, the peer pressure gets to them and they are like, ‘Oh, there’s no Santa Claus,’” Morris said. “That’s when I start talking to them in a different way. I tell them that if they go and tell the younger children that Santa is not real, then it takes the fun away from them.”
Sometimes, “Mrs. Claus,” Morris’ wife, Twyla, will accompany him.
“But with all of the grandkids, they would recognize me and figure out who he is, so I don’t go that often,” Twyla said.
Even wearing the Santa suit, not being recognized is the tricky part, Morris said.
“My grandkids recognize my voice,” he said. “It was the same way with my own kids.”
Morris’ daughter, Nicole Freeman, who lives in Georgia now, remembers when she discovered Santa’s true identity.
“I didn’t find out my dad was Santa until I was nearly 12,” Freeman said. “My brother, Todd, took me in the basement to play a game. I couldn’t figure out why he was being so nice. My dad was getting ready to go, and when I heard the bells ringing from his suit, I ran up the stairs expecting to see Santa, and it was my dad putting on a beard.”
Freeman couldn’t believe what she saw.
“At first, I was completely heartbroken,” she said. “I thought there was no real Santa and that my dad had been lying to us. Then daddy explained something to me in only the way a dad can. He told me he was one of Santa’s special elves, allowed to dress up like the Big Man himself to help him visit all the children of the world. I’ve passed this on to my own children, and they still believe in Santa.”
When his children were young, Morris used to sneak out of the house, so as not to be seen in his Santa suit. But if he was recognized, he had a good explanation.
“I would tell them that Santa can’t be everywhere and he has got helpers in all of the towns, and I’m Santa’s helper in Meeker,” Morris said.
Freeman said she still believes in Santa … and Santa’s helper.
“I’m 34, and to this day, my dad is my shining star and my own special gift from Santa,” Freeman said. “I’m very lucky, you see, that I get to have my dad as Santa all year round.”