Good Life

Wearing the red suit

Frank Bortz has been playing Santa at numerous events around the area for over 30 years.  CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Frank Bortz has been playing Santa at numerous events around the area for over 30 years. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

Gray ringlets and red velour poke out from a box labeled “ho-ho suit” in Frank Bortz’s State College home.Bortz, 75, hides the package from his 1- and 3-year-old grandchildren.They’re too young to learn grandpa’s secret — or the truth about Santa Claus, a character Bortz has portrayed in local events for about 20 years.For Bortz, the holiday hobby started in 1965 when he first donned a red suit to amuse neighborhood children.“We had a young family, and it seemed to be the thing to do,” said Bortz, a retired Penn State agriculture professor.Since then, Bortz has been recruited to take part in more organized events, such as the annual downtown State College holiday tree-lighting ceremony. This year, he’ll get his beard tugged at the Downtown State College Improvement District’s Polar Express event, where, last December, he heard Christmas wishes from about 1,500 children.“I enjoy kids,” he said. “I enjoy listening to them, and you can learn a whole bunch about children by listening to what they have to say.”Over time, he’s perfected answers to any question, from Rudolph’s whereabouts to his favorite Christmas Eve cookie (it’s chocolate chip).Last year yielded emotional conversations, he said. One wish popped up more than usual.“Kids would say ‘please find a job for my daddy,’ ” Bortz said.For this — or any request — the part-time Kris Kringle provides a standard response: “Santa Claus can’t promise anything.”“It would be disastrous to promise anything,” he said

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