Carroll Caudill without his Santa suit Tuesday at Sam’s Club. Noah Vernau Photo
There’s a good chance you’ve seen Carroll Caudill at Christmastime in Roswell — his full, white beard and a cheerful look, his black boots, a suit of red. Caudill, a great admirer of the holiday season, has donned the outfit and persona of Santa Claus for 15 years, giving performances in local nursing homes, day cares, churches and to benefit charities. Children who get a glimpse of Caudill without his suit as he checks prices in the aisles at Sam’s Club might whisper: Is that Santa?
If your idea of Santa Claus is the spirit of giving, you’d likely find that the person behind Caudill’s Santa suit is not unlike old Jolly St. Nick. For years, Caudill has devoted himself to assisting those less fortunate, working to raise money for organizations like CASA, The Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club, Tobosa Developmental Services and many others.
“It’s just a passion,” Caudill explained. “People say slow down, but at this point in your life, you have to give back.”
“It doesn’t matter what the charity is, if somebody asks me, then I’ll do my best to help them in whatever way I can,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of great talents other than trying to raise money.”
Caudill came to Roswell from Fort Worth, Texas, in 1993. He met his wife Darlene while both worked at JCPenney, and the two later went across the street to work at Sam’s Club, where Caudill leads fundraisers that generate $5,000 to charitable organizations each quarter.
Caudill’s naturally white hair has been a topic of conversation for years. In his younger days in Texas, friends joked that Caudill looked like Kenny Rogers. And now with the comparison to Santa, Caudill doesn’t mind one bit. “It’s fantastic. I have my beard 365 days a year. … As I got older, kids would say, ‘Hey, he looks like Santa Claus!’”
“I wish we had Christmas year-round. Not because of Santa Claus, but people’s attitude,” he said. “They’re more giving. They’re more loving. I think they’re more compassionate for each other.
“So many times you can be in a store, like during the summer, and somebody will run into you without even saying, ‘Excuse me.’ But around Christmastime, everybody seems to have a different attitude. It’s, ‘Oh, I’m sorry!’”
Caudill said reactions to a visit from Santa in any setting reveals something about us all, transcending age. “When I see these kids, and I see the look on their face when they see Santa Claus, it’s not me. When I put on that suit, I’m no longer Carroll. I’m this other thing. And the children look for that.
“It’s the same way when we go to a nursing home, these elderly people — it brings back their childhood. I mean, they literally go crazy, they’re all over you, they want to touch you. It’s that thrill that you bring to their life; that’s what I get out of it.”
Caudill shared how a family he’s friends with has a hyperactive child who is not often on his best behavior. But when Caudill joins them for a meal, he said, the boy’s attitude changes almost instantly.
“He eats everything on his plate, and he’s the calmest boy you ever saw,” Caudill laughed. “And they say when he goes home that night, he goes straight to bed.”
When it comes to charity, Caudill said he doesn’t think too much about why he does what he does, instead holding himself to the simple fact he’s “helping people who need help.”
“You see so many families out there that struggle just to make it. And they do survive, they make it day-to-day,” he said. “But they don’t have the Thanksgiving they should have or the Christmas they should have for their kids. It’s not because they’re not trying; it’s because of the economy. It’s a fact of life that some people just can’t give their children a lot of things.”
Caudill will strap on his Santa suit Sunday at 11:30 a.m. for the fourth annual CASA toy run put on by Guerreros Motorcycle Group. The parade, which starts at the Roswell Mall and heads down Main Street, is just one of many toy drives Caudill helps out with each year. Caudill will go to Carlsbad for a toy run on Dec. 1 and has another toy run in Roswell on Dec. 8 for The Salvation Army.
Caudill has never accepted money for his Santa performances. While people will ask him now and then to play Santa at a business or shopping center, Caudill says, “that’s not what I’m about.”
“When I’m Santa Claus, I’m Santa Claus. I’m not Carroll,” he said. “… (Helping) is not a matter of Carroll. Do I enjoy it? You bet I do. And if somebody says thank you, sure that makes me feel great, but if they don’t say think you, I still feel great because I think I did it for the right reason. I did it to help somebody.”