Florida Santa inducted into International Hall of Fame
Bob Elkin was quite a clown—a Shrine clown, that is—until one day in 1993 when his 3-year-old granddaughter Rhianna’s day care needed him.
The center’s Santa didn’t show up for a holiday party.
“My son Trip called me and asked if I could help out,” says Bob, a resident of Tampa and a member of the Egypt Shrine organization in Hillsborough County. “I hurriedly found an inexpensive suit, black boots and a theatrical white beard so my granddaughter wouldn’t recognize me and showed up. I even disguised my voice. At that point, I just wanted to make the children happy for the holidays. For years, she never knew it was me.”
Bob’s quick response changed his life.
For 11 years before then, he was Waki the Clown and Waki the Wizard, performing in the troupe of clowns sponsored by Egypt Shrine. He brought clown magic to birthday parties, corporate events, Shrine parades and patients at Tampa’s Shriners Hospital for Children.
“Something happened that day,” he says of the impromptu visit 25 years ago. “I still recall the feeling I got when I walked into that day care as Santa. There was a real living sense of magic and wonderment. It really overwhelmed me. I decided that I wanted to do this more often.”
Bob had a head start on the Santa look. His hair and beard turned white when he was just 40. He incorporated his beard into his Waki character, augmenting it with a lavender wig, exaggerated eyebrows, a purple cape, a wizard hat and oversized gold curl-toed shoes.
As he transitioned into Santa, he let his beard grow out. He attended Santa school in 2004 to fine-tune his portrayal and to learn the ropes.
“There we were, 40 Santas from all over the state,” Bob says. “I learned a lot, including the huge commitment it takes to be Santa—especially those of us who have real beards all yearlong. We can’t break character when we’re out in public, no matter what time of year.”
When he goes out, Bob dresses as “casual Santa,” typically wearing a red shirt and khakis.
“With my beard and white hair, people often see me as Santa,” he says. “We have to pretty much be in character all the time, and you have to be in the spirit, no matter what you are going through.”
Through the years, Bob has taken on leadership roles in the Santa world, as he and others call it. Early on, he became involved with local and national Santa groups. His organizational skills—honed when he worked in investments, finance and real estate—have come in handy.
Bob attended his first Santa convention in Branson, Missouri, in 2006. Several years later, he helped found the Palm Tree Santa Drill Team, serving as president since 2012. For five years, he was president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, which now has more than 2,100 members. He is Captain of Knights in the Knights of St. Nicholas, which is the official honor guard of the Santa Claus Oath, which is administered to members of the IBRBS.
Last December, Bob was inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, headquartered in Santa Claus, Indiana. The first Santa inducted from Florida, Bob is one of only 51 Santas inducted since the Hall of Fame got its start in 2010.
To fellow Santas in the group, Bob is known as “The Organizational Santa” because of his immersion in all things Santa Claus.
When not being Santa, Bob continues his work with Egypt Shrine. He has served as hospital chairman for eight years in support of the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa—one of 22 in the country.
Santa Bob makes more than 100 appearances at corporate parties, photography studios and private events in the five-week season leading up to Christmas. He and the drill team also perform in parades and other events.
Once Christmas is behind him, how does Santa Bob celebrate New Year’s Eve?
“I may stay up and watch the ball drop, but most years I’m asleep long before then,” Bob says. “I used to be a bit sad following Christmas, but now I remember all the love, smiles and joy, how blessed I am to portray Santa—how in my heart, I always feel the spirit of Santa—and it is always Christmas.”