Santa Unwrapped

Get to know some of Santa’s helpers in the community


Krista Fleming

Helena and Leon Isbell pose for a picture at a company holiday party for Keller Williams North Country Realty on Nov. 22. The couple have worked with a numerous number of children, taking special interest in helping children with autism experience the magic of Christmas.

With Christmas just around the corner, many families are getting their photos taken with Santa at local malls. Here’s a look at some of the Santas and one Mrs. Claus who are spreading some holiday cheer within our community.

Leon Isbell, Rent Santa DFW

Leon Isbell poses for a photo dressed as Santa at a holiday party for Keller Williams North Country Realty. Leon went to online and in-person schools to train to be a Santa. “It’s not a gift I originally accepted, but it has truly been a life-changer,” Leon said. “I do this and it makes people smile. My wife and I just have a lot of fun with it because we’re making a difference.” (Krista Fleming)

When Leon Isbell was first offered the job of dressing up as Santa at the Lowe’s he worked at, he thought it was silly, but reluctantly agreed after being convinced by his wife. 

“[It was] my first day [dressed as Santa], and I walk towards the front doors and this little girl, maybe 7, runs across the store screaming ‘Santa’ the whole way,” Leon said. “She jumps into my arms and gives me this big hug around the neck, saying ‘I’ve been looking for you.’ Once you’ve done that, there’s no way you can’t do this.”

Now he has been a Santa for five years, but previously, Leon worked in the digital field of marketing. Skills he picked up from that career helped him get through being a Santa during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of Santas was down approximately 25% while demand was approximately 150% of what it had been, Leon said.

“There is a huge shortage of Santas,” Leon said. “With [COVID-19], everything turned digital. All of a sudden, it was zoom calls with kids and outside appearances. A lot of older Santas retired from it because they were too high risk and didn’t understand the technology.”

Leon said he is always conscious of his appearance and actions when he goes out because people will recognize him as Santa year-round due to his natural beard.

“On the way home from a gig the other day, I went into Kroger fully dressed as Santa,” Leon said. “People were just smiling, saying ‘Hey Santa,’ even if they were adults and asking for pictures to show their kids. I will do that all day long because it makes people smile. Being Santa, getting to make people smile no matter where I go, it’s the best [feeling] in the world.”

Helena Isbell, Rent Santa DFW

Helena Isbell, dressed as Mrs. Claus, poses for a photo at a holiday party for Keller Williams North Country Realty. Helena said she views herself as a conversationalist, so she tends to talk to the kids for as long as they will let her. (Krista Fleming)

For years, Helena Isbell worked at and managed Thrive Women’s Clinic, a Christian non-profit whose goal was “to save babies and bring women to Christ,” while offering alternatives to abortions to those in need. There, workers would explain the consequences of both pregnancy and abortion, providing comfort and care for expecting mothers.

“I wanted a job that had meaning where I knew I was going to be making a difference in the world,” Helena said. “To me, it mattered what I did that day, and that was an amazing feeling.” 

After encouraging her husband to become Santa, Helena promised to help him with scheduling gigs and making sure everything went smoothly. For the next two years, he tried to convince her to dress up as Mrs. Claus with him, and she finally agreed after she retired a year ago. 

“When I saw that we could have that kind of effect on kids [and] how deeply it could impact the parents, I knew it was something I had to be a part of,” Helena said. “It is a blessing, and I thank God every day that he continues to put me there.”

Mrs. Claus first appeared in 1881, where Margaret Eytinge, a writer for “Harper’s Young People,” depicted her as Santa’s plump, good-natured wife — always in the kitchen. Over the next few years, many other children’s magazines and Christmas advocates latched onto the idea. During and after World War II, many women began joining their husbands and donning their own festive costumes, cementing Mrs. Claus’ role as a Christmas icon. The movement for a lady Santa didn’t stop there, as many professional Mrs. Claus’ have begun to dress in more formal attire in an effort to move away from the housewife persona.

“I am not the Mrs. Claus that’s in the kitchen with the apron and shower cap,” Helena said. “That’s not me and it is not who most girls are either. There was never a Mrs. Claus when I was growing up, so being able to be the representation I didn’t get is important to me. I’m not just someone in the background, and I want little girls to know they are not either.”

George Campbell, Rent Santa DFW

George Campbell poses for a photo dressed as Santa with the “The Night Before Christmas” book in his hands. Campbell has used the skills he picked up from working in marketing and hobbying in photography to further his Santa career. (Photo via Rent Santa DFW)

George Campbell never thought he’d be Santa. He worked about 40 years in marketing, and planned to pursue photography after retirement. That changed 10 years ago when a little girl in Costco ran over to him with two cookies in hand and said, “Here, Santa, these are for you.”

“My wife was the secretary at an elementary school, and when I came home and told her the story about me being recognized as Santa at Costco, she laughed,” Campbell said. “She said, ‘Yeah, you would make a good Santa.’ [That December], I got to be Santa at the elementary school PTA party. That was how I got my start.”

He ended up getting an advanced master in “Santaology” at the International University of Santa Claus, and is working to get his doctorate. Currently, Campbell’s mission is to give joy back to his community. He works with The Greatest Gift Catalog Ever, an organization that gives money to over a dozen charities. 

“One of them that’s close to my heart that I also volunteer at is the Hope Center for Autism, which is in Fort Worth,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of different things I’m able to do in my Santa-world that help people, and that is what I love most about it.”

Campbell said he celebrates Christmas every day of the year, making sure to remind people to keep “the nice feeling [they] have on that day with [their] family and friends,” in their heart. Even if you see him in the middle of the year, Campbell will still wear red, greet you and smile and say “Merry Christmas.”

“Part of believing in Santa is believing in the good of the world,” Campbell said. “You want to make sure that every child that you meet, no matter what age they are, knows that Santa is here for good and here to do nice things.”

John Rodgers, Lillipop Productions

John Rodgers poses for a photo with fellow Santas on June 26. Rodgers, along with other Santas at the gathering, is a real-beard Santa, which he said has “helped him capture more magic.” (Photo via My Santa – Mental Memories.)

To John Rodgers, Christmas has always been more than just a holiday. Although his dad had a decent job when he was growing up and his mother got a good job of her own later in life, money was always tight. 

“Looking back on it, it always seemed like we had just enough to get by,” Rodgers said. “Throughout the year, I never really got toys or candy because we couldn’t afford it. But [on] Christmas, [my] dad would bust his butt to make it the most magical it could be.”

When he was 20 years old, Rodgers got married and had a child, so he dropped out of college to provide for his family. He landed a job in retail management, which he did for 18 years. Rodgers went back to college to study English at Mountain View College in Dallas, obtained a degree, and taught for 25 years. He retired three years ago and substituted until his health risks forced him to fully retire a year later. 

“I never really intended to go into retail, it just happened,” Rodgers said. “Every once in a while, I’d have to hire people, and it would always break my heart to see how many people couldn’t read or write well enough to properly fill out the application. I wanted to do my part in helping people get more literate — make a difference with the few decades I had left.”

Rodgers first donned the red suit in the 80s, something he wore at family gatherings during the holidays. Decades later, he began getting paid for Santa appearances. Rodgers volunteers at libraries for storytimes with Santa and is primarily employed by the Grapevine North Pole Express. At the North Pole Express, he walks through the different compartments of a train and takes photos with guests while they receive a chocolate chip cookie, a taste of Santa’s Frosty Chocolate Snow Milk served in a complementary mug and a “We Believe” bell.

“[I do it] for the pure joy it brings,” Rodgers said. “I can’t explain how it feels to see a kid’s face light up when they see that red suit. They truly believe I’m Santa, when in reality, I’m just Santa’s helper. But, keeping that magic alive [and] allowing kids to hang onto that magic, it allows me to hang on to a little bit [of it] myself.”