June 24, 2024

John Symonds: Just “Claus”

John Symonds is making his list and checking it twice, plumping his bushy white beard and plotting a course to a flurry of Christmastime stops.

An application database administrator at UMW, Symonds began playing Santa soon after he started tinkering with computers, on a bulky Burroughs B25 model in 1975.

In Fredericksburg, he was Santa in last weekend’s parade and (when it isn’t rained out, like it was this year) at the Hurkamp Park tree lighting the weekend before. He stops in at the Department of Social Services, Fredericksburg Academy, Christ Lutheran Church and Rappahannock Regional Library. And he strolls Caroline and William streets throughout the season. (Download the Fred Map app and use the Santa Tracker to find him.) He also shows up at the National Gladding Family Adoption Agency in Northern Virginia, and tree lightings in Port Royal and Ladysmith volunteer fire departments.

“Whew,” he said, “… you never know where I might be.”

Oh, but we do. At least on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. That’s when Symonds – as Santa – will welcome children of UMW faculty and staff at the home of President Troy Paino and wife Kelly at Brompton. (Register online; there’s still a few spaces left.)

Q: What brought you to UMW?
A:Sitting in traffic on I-95 in December 2000, I kept hearing an ad for a systems analyst at UMW. I’d retired from the Air Force in 1994 and was an Air Force contractor until I put my application in at UMW and got the job.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Making users happy by answering their questions or figuring out what their problem was.

Q: What was your first gig as Santa?
A: In 1981, I was the deputy chief of the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department and we needed a Santa to ride through the subdivisions on a fire truck. I had done it for my kids a couple of times. I came out of the box that year!

Q: What are some funny questions kids have asked you?
A: Where are the reindeer? Can I be your elf?

Q: Does it get hot under that big costume – and beard?
A: It’s like the weather in the basement of GW; you dress in layers and hope you got it right.

Q: How do you stay in a jolly, Santa-ish mood?
A: I think of the kids. I do this all for the kids. If I can reach just one and make a connection, my day is made.

Q: How does your UMW Santa appearance compare to the rest?
A: UMW has always (since 2001) been near and dear to me, and I’ve always wanted to give back in some other way than Giving Day. Thanks to the Hurleys and now the Painos, I’m allowed to do that. In the end, it’s all about the kids.

Q: Who’s easier to deal with, the children who sit on your lap as Santa or employees who come to you with computer questions?
A: I try to treat all the same. Many of the UMW faculty and staff are really just big kids at heart.

Q: How old were you when you stopped believing in a real Santa?
A: I don’t think I ever really stopped “believing.” It’s the spirit of Santa that lives on and on. Tim Allen and his movies helped me understand.

Q: Any mottos you live by?​
A: “Do the most you can, for as many as you can, as often as you can.”