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Meet Dayton’s very own Santa Claus

It seems there’s never a shortage of people from Dayton who are out there doing great things. However, there’s one very special person in particular who is Dayton born and raised, especially important this time of year, and yet most people probably have no idea he’s living right here among us. 

>> Meet Mark DaGrossa, another Dayton Santa Claus

That’s right: the North Pole’s resident number one is actually a huge University of Dayton Flyer fan who graduated in 1970 from Chaminade Julienne High School, and he drove a Greater Dayton RTA bus for 16 years.

Dayton’s very own John Kern is Santa Claus. Aside from doing countless private parties for sick children unable to visit Santa at the mall and other gatherings of more than 45 children at a time, Kern has been the star of the Dayton Holiday Festival for the past 12 years.  

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When was the first time that you thought you might want to be Santa?

When I was going to Our Lady of the Rosary, in my late 20’s, early 30’s. I was involved over there in the parish. They had a Christmas bazaar and they asked me to be a Santa Claus over there and they had their own suit and everything. I got to do it more every year or so and then I said, “Hmm. This may be a good thing to start.” So I went and got a couple suits and here I am!

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Dayton’s very own John Kern is Santa Claus. Aside from doing countless private parties for sick children unable to visit Santa at the mall and other gatherings of more than 45 children at a time, Kern has been the star of the Dayton Holiday Festival for the past 12 years.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Where do you get your very own Santa suit? 

I bought the two that I have in Huber Heights -- the place is out of business now. Then I was going to Act One costumes to buy some beards, and I went to Foy’s in Fairborn and bought some supplies over there.

What has kept you putting on the big red suit year after year? 

Oh, it was just a joy of bringing smiles to the kids’ faces and the parents really liked it. They were able to take their own pictures. Especially if they’re premature -- the parents don’t want to take them to where there’s a lot of germs around and a lot of kids with colds. So you know, they’ll give me a call and have me come do a visit for them … those kids still receive the joy of Santa Claus, and didn’t have to go to a mall.

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As Santa, you have to be holly and jolly all the time. Is there anything you do to get yourself in the spirit before an event? 

Yeah I just go ahead and get in a good mood -- I have a set of bells that I ring and give my ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ and that usually gets people in the mood.

Do you think you’ve perfected your “ho, ho, ho”?

Oh yeah, I think I’ve got it down pretty good. A lot of people will say, “let’s see your ho, ho, ho!”

Have you had any children recognize you in public when you’re not in your suit?

Well I drive an RTA bus here in town, and I’ve had people say, “Boy, you’d make a good Santa Claus,” and I say, “Well in fact, that’s what I do.” Last year my picture was on the side of the bus for a promotion they did. 

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What’s the most unsuspected thing a child has asked you for Christmas? 

They ask for a lot of different things. I’ve had some of them ask for world peace. I say, “Yeah that would be great for everybody. Santa would surely like that, to see everybody get along and everything.”

I also stress the importance to them of also, Christmas is the day when Jesus was born and that’s the real meaning of Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas is us giving to people -- it’s good to give better than to receive, because giving comes from the heart and shows love. 

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Is there any one interaction with a child that really sticks out to you?

A lot of them have the Elf on the Shelves and I say, “Remember they let me know what’s going on!”

So I’ll tell them they best be on their best behavior all the time...not only this time of year, but all year round.

How does it feel to have a child look up to you and see the awe in their eyes of being face to face with Santa? 

It really is a good feeling because you just say, “My golly, they really do believe.” It’s just a great feeling that’s all. 

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Why is Dayton special to you?

It’s just a good town. I’ve been a UD Flyer fan ever since I can remember. My sister used to work at the old UD fieldhouse working concessions, so that goes back many years. I’ve been a Flyer fan since almost 5 years old -- since 1957. I currently hold season tickets at the University of Dayton Arena. I’ve held them since 1971. Every year. 

Know someone who should be featured as our Daytonian of the Week? Let us know! To nominate, drop us a line at contact@dayton.com with their name, contact info and how they make Dayton great.

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