12/27/04 — Commentary: Santa Starling

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Commentary: Santa Starling

By Gene Price
Published in News on December 27, 2004 1:56 PM

Santa Starling

All brides are beautiful. And all Santa Clauses are good fellows.

The following observations aren't to suggest any lack of appreciation for all the fellows who don the red suits, black boots and white beards to thrill the young folks and take their orders for Christmas.

Indeed, this is more of a publicly expressed "thank you" to all of them.

But if a nationwide search were to be made for the most authentic looking Santa, I would have to nominate Willie Ray Starling.

He has been a familiar Santa figure for four decades. He shows up at nursing homes, retirement villages, volunteer fire departments, church functions, schools, fraternal organizations, prayer breakfasts -- even on television. And always a crowd pleaser.

"But I don't do parades," he told me recently. That's not entirely accurate. He doesn't "do parades" as Santa. But he often appears driving one of the popular Shrine mini-rigs -- or in his antique pickup truck which has won numerous ugliest truck "honors."

As each Christmas season approaches, Willie Ray sacrifices his usually neat, clean-shaven appearance and grows an authentic beard. It is appropriately white, magnificently thick and complete with a neatly curled mustache.

Willie Ray is built like a professional football linebacker and can stand out in a crowd with or without his Santa suit and beard.

Whether "Ho, ho, ho-ing" at a county commissioners meeting or balancing an awe-stricken youngster on his knee, he appears perfectly cast for the Santa role.

And his interest and enthusiasm are genuine.

Recently, on his own, "Santa" Starling made the rounds, stopping people on the street, meandering his way through the various departments of local businesses -- including the News-Argus -- presenting all he met with a piece of wrapped candy and a hearty "Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas!"

As he departed our premises, one delighted employee asked: "Who was that?"

The response was one which must have been squealed by thousands of area youngsters over the years: "Why that's the real Santa!"