Born and raised in Fisher Branch, Steve Malkowich has had a number of different careers during the course of his life. He was a teacher, trained as a meteorologist, and was with the military’s Department of Engineers, the Department of Natural Resources as a conservation officer, and with Indian Affairs. He was a hotelier for a time, and also worked for Ducks Unlimited.
But perhaps his most important career has been the one he’s embraced since he returned to Brandon for the second time in 1993, after living in 21 places since 1957. For the past 12 years, he’s taken on the persona of Santa Claus for a variety of functions around town. And Malkowich, a jolly soul himself, wouldn’t have it any other way. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD)
What was the draw to come back to Brandon? I suppose it was work related.
Yes — I was with Ducks Unlimited in Regina, and then we had a choice to go to Oak Hammock Marsh or Brandon, and we loved Brandon, so we decided to come here.
What did you love about Brandon?
Well, it’s a community where it’s so close — when you make friends here, they’re for life. And within 10 minutes or even less, you can be anyplace you want. And that’s why we loved it here. Why we LOVE it here!
When you lived in all those other places, did the Santa thing come up? Or is this a new incarnation since you came to back to the Wheat City?
What happened with Santa — I was doing security work at The Town Centre. And Karen Chrest said to me in 2001, ‘I think you’d make a great Santa Claus. How would you like to be Santa in the mall?’ And I said, ‘Me? Santa?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’
So they had a suit there, and I dressed as Santa, and I’ve been Santa ever since. And then when I was Santa there, they asked me if I would be in the parade. So I’ve been Santa in the Santa Parade for the City of Brandon for 12 years.
I’m presuming that with the changes that have taken place in The Town Centre, you’ve been doing the Santa gig elsewhere?
The only place I’ve been doing it is in The Town Centre, and then I do house calls, I do schools, I do businesses. This year I have 12 bookings already — I had three this past week. I go to quite a few schools — I do playtime.
Do you get paid for these appearances?
Oh yes — they pay me. I charge for various venues.
Well, as they should. Because even though you find it fun, it’s work like anything else.
The thing is, just to buy the beard is $100. So yes — they pay me.
Obviously you’re retired from the workforce now. So why do you like to play Santa Claus?
Well, the thing is, I like kids. I’ve always liked kids. I like to see the excitement in them when they receive a gift from Santa Claus. And from being Santa so long, you kind of prompt them. Like earlier this week I went to a kindergarten class and they’re three and four years old, and I asked — I take great joy in this — I asked a little guy what he wanted for Christmas from Santa. And he pondered. He just pondered — he didn’t know what he wanted. So I suggested to him, ‘Would you like a puppy dog?’ And his mommy is sitting there, her eyes wide and trying to stop me, going, ‘Santa!’ I just love things like that.
And even now when I do part-time security work for Paladin Security, I’ll have some candy canes in my pocket in my security outfit. And I’ll see a little kid maybe four years old, and I’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness — I’m glad you’re here, because I was talking to Santa Claus, and he told me if I saw you, to give you a candy cane!’ And they just beam — they just light right up. So I do that during Christmastime.
That’s so sweet! And you kind of light up when tell me about this, too!
Well, I enjoy it very much. And as I say, I’ve been doing Santa Claus for about 12 years now, but the biggest satisfaction that I’ve ever had was I did Sensitive Santa (for children who have autism disorders) this year for the second time at the Riverbank Discovery Centre. And the first time I did it was last year. And I tell you, it really, really opens your eyes, how sensitive you have to be to these children that are that sensitive.
I had one situation with a cute little girl — she was dressed as neat as a pin, but she was timid. And it took me about 15 minutes, and I eventually coaxed her to come and sit on Santa’s knee. And that is a great satisfaction for me. Because it’s not their fault. And if I can bring them a little joy, I just love doing that.
You see, you’ve got to be very careful — you can’t be boisterous, you can’t ring your bells — that’s why it’s called Sensitive Santa. And I take great, great pride in doing that and great satisfaction from doing that — very much so.
And I presume you lower your voice and your volume — all that sort of stuff.
Oh absolutely. I try to coax them, and I have my bells with me and I ask them if they’d like to wake Rudolph up because he’s sleeping and I’ll jingle the bells quietly and slowly. And eventually they’ll come and they’ll jingle the bells.
Do you do anything outside of schools or larger gigs?
I do house calls as well, and a lot of different venues like that. And a gentleman in this town — he’s a businessman — asked me if I would be Santa Claus for their house party get-together. And he told me where the gifts were going to be in front of their house. So naturally I put the gifts in the bag, knocked on the door, and this lady came to the door — she’d be 30 or 35 — and she said, ‘Oh my God — SANTA!’ He never told his daughter or his wife or anybody — it was just a surprise — it was an absolute surprise. It was hilarious. And his daughter said, ‘Dad — you rat!’ It was really good. It really tickled them. I love that.
When you do something like that, do you just stay for a few minutes?
Usually what happens is the older one in the house — if they’re 10 or 18 or whatever, they become Santa’s helper. And I always have candy canes for them and usually the family will have presents for each child in the house.
Does being Santa MAKE Christmas for you? Because I look around your home here and see all your decorations — it looks like you really get into this. Or does being Santa so frequently take the edge off the season for you?
Oh no. It brings extra joy to us here, me being Santa Claus.
Now I can’t help but notice you’re fairly trim — do you have to use padding when you play the role?
Yes I do — I have to wear some padding.
I know lots of kids are afraid of clowns and I think sometimes that happens with Santa, too. Has that ever happened to you?
Sometimes they do make strange and I won’t force the issue. I will just sit and coax them closer and closer. Usually a candy cane will draw anything out of a child. And the bells are a great help. And I just say, ‘How would you like to get a candy cane from Santa?’ And even if they say no, they’ll eventually come closer and closer and closer and they’ll take a candy cane. Then once they get the candy cane, they’ll come and sit on Santa’s knee and tell Santa what they want for Christmas.
Does it always have to be with kids or do you do adult parties, too?
Oh, I do adult parties, too. Sometimes there’ll be mixed crowds with kids and parents. And they’ll have parents come and sit on Santa’s knee. Now that’s funny. There’ll be a lot of hilarious gifts given by various members of the family for their mothers or their fathers — stuff from the older kids. And that is really funny.
We’ve kind of talked around it, but what’s your favourite thing about being Santa Claus?
I like the children. But my favourite thing is to see the joy on their faces when I walk in and they’re all screaming, ‘Santa!’ And then I’ll get on my knees with them and ask them would they help Santa sing ‘Jingle Bells.’ I ring the bells and they all sing ‘Jingle Bells’ and then they loosen up and they’re all just kind of running around looking for their presents.
And there’s always one in the crowd who wants to be first to sit on Santa’s knee. I have no problem with that — it all depends on how they have it organized. But usually they’re well organized and they’re usually well-behaved.
Some of the ticklish moments I have is if you have a child who has Velcro on his clothes that’ll stick to Santa’s beard and almost pull his beard off! (laughs)
But it’s a lot of fun with the kids — I just love it.
You told me that you have three kids — two girls and a boy — and then seven grandchildren and two great-grandchilrden. How do they feel about having Santa Claus for a dad or a grandpa?
My daughter lives in Brandon — she just loves to come and see Santa Claus and sit on Santa’s knee. She’s the jovial type. I don’t go to their place because the grandchildren are older now. But the surprising part was when our granddaughter here in town was 10 years old, she still believed in Santa Claus and she came to see Santa. And after, her mother said, ‘Don’t you know who that is? That’s Grandpa!’ That was funny. And she didn’t know it was me.
Is there anything else that’s changed in your life since you started doing this?
Well, I buy a lot of candy canes — I go through a lot of candy canes!
How do you stay cheerful all the time?
That’s just the way I am, day in and day out. I get as much joy as I give. And it’s a joy for me — I really, really look forward to it — I enjoy the kids so much. Even when I’m not being Santa Claus, even before Christmas, if I happen to have a candy in my pocket, I’ll give it to the kids. That’s just my nature. That’s just the way I am.
And a lot of times during the Santa Claus Parade — let’s say if you know I’m in the Santa Claus Parade and you’re going to have your grandchild with you, I’ll ask you where you’re going to be standing — say in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia — and what your grandchild’s name is, so I’ll write it down on a piece of paper and watch for you. And when I see you at the parade, I’ll say, ‘Hi Mickey!’ And then I’ll wave to them. And it’s just hilarious to see the kids jump up and down — ‘Santa knows me! Santa knows me!’