NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - A southern Indiana Santa's helper is getting an early jump on Christmas this year in a big way. He's about to fly his reindeer to the Big Apple.
Everyone knows Santa lives at the North Pole, but I caught up with the jolly fellow in New Albany. While he's known worldwide, this Santa is now getting some national attention.
When you call Santa Jerry Owens you'll hear, "Ho! Ho! Ho! You've reached Santa Claus. How can I help you? I hope you've been good."
The 62-year-old Louisville native has been helping the real Santa Claus for nearly a quarter century. Just check his LinkedIn account and you'll see it's more than just a hobby. Frankly, it's more than a job - Santa Jerry says it's a lifestyle commitment.
"You cannot come out of the character Santa because no matter where you go there's a child somewhere that's going to say, 'Mommy, there's Santa Claus," said Owens.
It's a role that takes training. Owens has attended the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan because the real Santa's boots are not always easy to fill.
"I get asked countless times, the tough questions," said Owens. "The ones that, you know, 'I want my mommy back.' You know, and how do you answer that?"
It was at this year's training in Midland that Santa caught the attention of producers from NBCs TODAY while they were recording a segment on the school. Now the Santa that makes frequent hospice rounds will be packing up and heading to the Big Apple - New York City - to appear on a national broadcast.
"I said, 'why me?,' Owens recalled. "She (the NBC TODAY producer) said, 'Santa,' she said, "it was something in the interviews you did at school that they liked and so they said 'this is the one we want.'"
It's not the first time Santa Jerry has been in the national spotlight. A Coca-Cola ad campaign allowed the jolly fellow to respond to forgotten letters, hand-delivering Christmas wishes some 40 years after they had been mailed.
It's that spirit of giving and lighting up other's lives that Santa Jerry says makes it all worthwhile.
"The suit finds you," said Owens. "You don't find the suit."
You can see the TODAY show debut of Santa Jerry on Sunday, December 1, starting at 8 a.m.
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