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Big boots to fill: Bridgeport welcomes new Santa, remembers Horne

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, December 1, 2018
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Answering the Call

ANSWERING THE CALL – George Campbell, a Santa from Bedford, filled in at Bridgeport’s Santa and the Stagecoach Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. Chan Horne, who passed away in September, served as the Santa for 29 years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In Bridgeport City Hall, a man with a white beard and a polyester red suit waited in the wings for the big moment.

The man with a smile on his face and jingle in his step was tasked with filling some big boots at Bridgeport’s Santa and the Stagecoach Christmas Tree Lighting. For the first time in decades, Bridgeport would meet a new man in red.

Bridgeport resident Chan Horne was Bridgeport’s own Santa Claus for 29 years before his death in September.

Horne lived up to the Santa suit in every way, said Mayor Randy Singleton.

“Chan was not just Santa Claus at these events, he was Santa Claus everywhere he went,” Singleton said. “He’d be in the barber shop in his work clothes and be handing out candy. He was a man that believed in what he was doing; he believed in spreading cheer and happiness everywhere. That’s what he wanted the world to be.”

“The more I saw him and the more I was around him, I realized he really is Santa Claus.”

Answering the Call 2

ANSWERING THE CALL – George Campbell, a Santa from Bedford, filled in at Bridgeport’s Santa and the Stagecoach Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. Chan Horne, who passed away in September, served as the Santa for 29 years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Replacing the cherished member of the community would be an impossible feat. But the next Santa in line, George Campbell of Bedford, said he would do his best to honor him as he awaited the mob of excited children just outside the City Hall doors Monday night.

“Being Santa is like a ministry,” Campbell said. “It’s about being love, hope and joy to every little kid.”

At 7 p.m. he rang in the season in downtown Bridgeport – the Christmas capital of Wise County.

Campbell is a Santa purist and a bit of a historian. He rattles off his interpretation of the founding documents and tales of the original Saint Nick like a justice interpreting the Constitution.

Campbell will soon complete his Doctorate in Santalogy at Tim Monohans University of Santa Claus. His undergraduate studies were at Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan, and he received his master’s from the University of Santa Claus.

But he’s not just a bookworm. In Bridgeport, he showed the intangible qualities of warmth and cheer, living up to expectations of the red suit by giving specific attention to each kid.

This was something he learned early when his call to the North Pole began five years ago. He was at the tire center in Costco during the middle of a Texas summer when a child recognized the Santa within.

“A 4-year-old walked over to me and handed me two cookies in the middle of August and said, ‘Santa, I want you to have these cookies,'” Campbell said. “That was it. I realized I could be Santa.”

Ever since, Campbell has been making children smile as Santa George, the North Texas Santa.

Over the next four weeks, Santa George will put 8,000 miles on his car making appearances at events across North Texas. He’ll spend long days outside Claire’s Jewelry and the food court, sitting on his throne for hours on end during shifts at the mall leading up to Christmas Day.

It’s busy season for Santa, and despite the long hours and longer miles, Campbell said the kids make it all worth it.

“If you don’t have a love for children in your heart, you won’t be a good Santa,” he said. “Having that love is key.”

But Campbell doesn’t just use his Santa presence during the holidays.

Being Santa is a full-time job for Campbell, a member of the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santa Registry No. 7691. He has his name, North Texas Santa, trademarked and his LinkedIn page and business cards carry the professional glean of a marketing whiz.

But it’s a full-time service, too.

As a board member of Lone Star Santas, a non-profit organization, he has aided in disaster relief after Hurricane Harvey.

The organization brings together more than 500 christmas performers in Texas to help where they can.

“We do a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “We do disaster relief for children who have been victims of natural disasters like tornadoes and floods. We did four separate events for Hurricane Harvey.”

Campbell said the Santas really form a brotherhood and a bond.

And even though Horne wasn’t a member of Lone Star Santas, Campbell said he was deeply saddened the passing of a man who made such an impact on the Wise County community.

“When a Santa passes, we do something called a last sleigh ride,” he said. “There isn’t a dry eye in the church. It’s something to see. A poem is read and there’s eight bells for each reindeer. It’s very moving. I wish we could have done it for him.”

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