In season and out of season, August Kelly is the spitting image of December's favorite hero, Santa Claus. From his bushy, white beard down to his shiny boots and his golden belt buckle around the middle, the 62-year-old St. James resident looks the part. However, as he tells the story, this hasn't always been the case.

In season and out of season, August Kelly is the spitting image of December's favorite hero, Santa Claus. From his bushy, white beard down to his shiny boots and his golden belt buckle around the middle, the 62-year-old St. James resident looks the part. However, as he tells the story, this hasn't always been the case.
“When I first began, I just had a red sports coat with a pillow tucked underneath it  and a pair of red dockers,” he told The Rolla Daily News. “I looked like Mr. Santa from GQ magazine with an ugly person inside the suit.”
That was in 1999. It was then that a  family friend in Farmington invited “Santa” over to visit a girl with Down syndrome. “The family couldn't get  her out to see Santa, so I got dressed up and came to her,” said Kelly. “I'll never forget how happy she was to see me.”
He added that the parents at that event were quite content as well, and the word got out that Santa Claus was in town. He liked the idea and started to grow his beard and invested  in a  real Santa suit.
“By 2001, I had all the pieces of the outfit,” he recalled. “I've been through several Santa suits over the years. When you only use them once a year, they tend to rot or fall apart while in storage.”
Earlier this week, good ol' St. Nick stopped by Hand in Hand preschool in St. James  for a visit. He gave an update on his reindeer and handed out teddy bears to around 20 bright-eyed youngsters.
“These are very special bears,” he told them. “You put these teddy bears under your bed at night and tell them what you want and the bears then tell me what to get you.”
The little ones had a chance to sit on Santa's lap and get a candy cane as well. However, not everyone in the school house warmed up to the idea of  a close encounter with the man dressed in red.  A few kids were terrified simply with the thought, while others came running to give Santa a big hug.
“That's very typical,” said Kelly. “Some kids don't want to have anything to do with you, and for others, you're their instant best friend, and they want to tell you their whole life story.”
He added that a warm smile and friendly wave of his white gloves often eases the tension of any “stranger danger.”
His half-hour visit to Hand in Hand was Kelly's ninth stop this Christmas season. He said he had around seven more before Christmas. Twenty stops a year is typical for him. That equates to hundreds of kids each year who have had a chance to see Santa. Over the decades, he has traveled as far as Children's Hospital in St. Louis, but he shared that most of his visits are in the Phelps County area.
“I have a special place in my heart for kids with special needs,” he noted. “People tell me that my visits are often the first time a special-needs child has reacted with a smile or a gesture.  The interaction with the kids is what this is all about.”

Kelly added that he is often asked if he is part of an official Santa Claus agency or union.
“No I am not a shopping-mall Santa,” he said. “Those Santas are for hire and have an agent getting them paying gigs.  I don't take any money for my appearances.  All of this is out of my own pocket. It's that smile or hug from  a little kid that makes my day. That's  worth the world to me.”