SAVANNAH, Ga. – A typical uniform for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger includes a tan flat-brimmed hat, gray shirt, dark green trousers, pair of sturdy boots, and a shiny badge.
David Quebedeaux, park ranger at J. Strom Thurmond Lake with USACE, Savannah District, adds a different attire back into his wardrobe around this time of year.
Quebedeaux has been a park ranger for over 33 years, but has made appearances as Santa around Augusta, Georgia, for the last four.
“My role as a ranger and as Santa Claus is to help people have a good day,” said Quebedeaux.
Quebedeaux first donned the red suit just before the start of COVID-19 in December 2019. He decided to continue growing out his beard throughout the pandemic and the rest was history.
“It turned it out to be a lot of fun,” said Quebedeaux. “As soon as a kid sees you, their eyes get big, and they run at you with their arms wide open. It’s one of the most incredible feelings in the world.”
A lot of Santa’s jolly traits come naturally to Quebedeaux, including the signature spirited laugh. His wife, Jenny, also shares similar qualities and joins his side as Mrs. Claus each year.
“She’s devoted her life to serve others, as did I, and she’s one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met,” said Quebedeaux. “This is something we enjoy doing together: helping others and spreading joy.
Quebedeaux’s appearances as Santa in previous years included local television stations, civic organizations and a special project called Sensory Santa geared toward children with special needs.
When the long lines, large crowds or bright lights were too overwhelming for some children, Sensory Santa offered an alternative experience.
“They had one-on-one time with Santa Claus,” said Quebedeaux. “If I needed to get down on the floor with them, then I got down on the floor with them. It was such an effective way to serve an underserved community.”
Quebedeaux doesn’t just ask the kids what they want for Christmas, he also makes sure to include the parents as well.
“You ask a kid what they want for Christmas, and they’ll tell you they want a toy,” said Quebedeaux. “You ask a parent what they want, and you better hold on.”
There are few people in this world who adults confide in. Sometimes they are hairdressers, sometimes they are therapists, and, in Quebedeaux’s experience, sometimes they are Santa.
“There’s an interaction people bring to you simply because you’ve got on a red suit and a beard,” said Quebedeaux. “It comes with a responsibility.”
He recalled one night from a few years ago when he stopped to fill his red truck up with gas, dressed as Santa, on the way to a holiday event. A gentleman pulled up in a car and shouted from the far side of the pump, ‘I’ve been looking for you.’
“I didn’t know if I was supposed to know him from work, church or my role as a Boy Scout troop leader,” said Quebedeaux.
The man proceeded to exit his car and gently approached Quebedeaux saying ‘I’m having the most awful day.’
Just when Quebedeaux was about to introduce himself as David, he quickly adapted to the scenario.
“I said, ‘My name is Santa and you’re going to get everything you need in this world, just keep trying’,” said Quebedeaux. “We spent the next 45 minutes talking about hope and the possibilities of a better tomorrow.”
Although he may eventually retire from the Corps, Quebedeaux said that he will never hang up his Santa hat.
“I love helping people,” said Quebedeaux. “I’ll do this the rest of my life.”