Dr. Bill Hunt has dressed as Santa Claus for charity and fun since 1971. Here, Dr. Hunt/Santa poses with Director of Physician Affairs Carl Manelius at the Lancaster City & County Medical Society’s recent holiday party.
The most expensive suit in Dr. Bill Hunt’s closet is also the most enjoyable to wear: the Santa suit.
Dr. Hunt, who retired from LGHP Manheim Family Medicine in 2015, has played Santa for charity and fun since 1971, when his younger brother (St. George) obtained a Santa suit and persuaded him to wear it.
Dr. Hunt, then 25, immediately appreciated Santa’s unique ability to make people smile.
“Medicine is a wonderful profession that gives one great satisfaction when the patient is helped, but there is a lot of sadness and tragedy also,” he said. “Santa Claus seems to just make people feel better.”
Dr. Hunt has played Santa for charity events and nursing home visits, as well as parties for LGH, his Quarryville and Manheim practices, and recently, the Lancaster City and County Medical Society.
When Dr. Hunt’s grandsons asked questions about his hobby, he told them the truth: "When I put on that suit, I am Santa!"
Even when Dr. Hunt isn’t wearing his suit, people comment on his resemblance to Kris Kringle. He’s had a beard on and off since he was 16. He grew his current beard in 1992, for a contest in honor of Quarryville’s 250th anniversary. (He won.) False beards are uncomfortable, so he was glad when his own turned white 10 years ago.
Dr. Hunt’s Santa is strictly a solo act. His wife Tess loves to watch kids’ joyful reactions, but she isn’t interested in playing Mrs. Claus.
“She describes herself as Santa’s daughter,” he said. “She’s put up with it for all these years. I offered to buy her a Mrs. Claus outfit, and she said, ‘No way.’ ”
In 1976, Dr. Hunt wore his suit to his fellow intern Dr. Jerry Rothacker’s house to surprise his two young sons. When they answered the door, he said, “I’m looking for the best bone doctor in town. Prancer hurt his leg, and I need help.”
The wide-eyed, open-mouthed and speechless boys were amazed when their father grabbed his doctor’s bag and "medicinal tonic" and disappeared outside with Santa.
“We came back in and said, ‘Prancer’s bandaged up and ready to go,’ ” Dr. Hunt said. “The kids still remember it to this day.”
Another time, Dr. Hunt was in his Santa attire while on call with Dr. Bob Doe, who was dressed as an elf. Dr. Doe saw an 8-year old-girl with belly pain and asked Santa for another opinion. The girl had her appendix out, thanks to the elf and Santa.
Dr. Hunt also recalls a nursing home visit with a resident who had severe dementia and would not talk. When he walked into the room, her face lit up and she exclaimed, "Santa!" and gave him a big hug.
“It’s amazing what you can do as Santa Claus,” Dr. Hunt said. “You can go anywhere you want, talk to most everyone and see the joy on people’s faces.
“There are just too many negative things in our world, and if Santa can make people and children feel good -- even for a short time -- that is a great gift to us all.”