Every year at Thanksgiving a wonderful event would take place in Tifton, GA. It was time for the arrival of that red suited, very special person: Santa Claus. Santa's arrival was sponsored each year by the radio station for which I worked. For several days prior to his arrival, we would put promotional announcements on the radio station (WWGS) and let people know that this event was only a few days away. WWGS Radio was the annual sponsor of the appearance of Santa Claus. As I remember, Toyland and some other businesses also helped sponsor it.
On a given day, Santa would fly into the Tifton airport in a small plane usually piloted by one of our announcers, Joe Beaumont. The airport would be crowded with children and their parents in order to see the "fly-by" with Santa waving to the crowd as the plane made a low pass for the people. After a couple of those fly-bys, the plane would land and Santa would mount a fire truck for the ride into Tifton. He would be taken to the Western Auto Store where he would sit in a special place and talk to the children. Main Street would be crowded with people who had come to see the spectacular entrance of Santa. It was a big day! Everyone was happy and excited. The children were giddy with happiness. The fire truck bearing Santa would enter the downtown section with its siren blaring. It was escorted by the local police department cars with sirens blaring and red lights flashing....this was before the day of blue lights. Candy was thrown into the crowd to the delight of the children. It was truly a spectacular event always looked forward to by the people of Tifton.
But, one year we had a problem. No Santa. The person who had played the part for years had to forego the fun for some reason and here we were only a couple of weeks away from the special day with no Santa. Who could we get? Who would want to do it? Who had the personality to make our Santa all he should be? The station owner, Mr. Ralph Edwards asked me one day if I had any ideas as to who could fill the bill. I immediately thought of one man. He was a local favorite. Everyone knew him. He was a salesman at the local Ford dealership. His name was Frank Hogan. Now, Frank Hogan was about 6'3" tall and weighed about 300 pounds. He was a giant of a man with a jolly personality and many, many friends. Frank was a friend of my family as he and my father, Frank Harrell, were good buddies. We all dove hunted often during the season (Frank was a very good shot). We all loved Frank and his family. So, I told Mr. Edwards that I had the perfect person if he would consent to play Santa for us. He asked who it was and I told him Frank Hogan. He immediately agreed and asked me if I would go to the Ford place and ask Frank if he would like to play Santa for us. So, I made my little trip out to the Ford dealership and found Frank Hogan. We passed a few friendly thoughts and then I said: "Frank, you know we bring Santa into town in only a few days and we don't have a Santa this year. Would you like to be our Santa Claus this year? Of course, Frank was totally familiar with how things worked and he said: "Bill, I would love to play the part of Santa." I told him we would need to order a new suit because he was somewhat bigger than our old Santa. Frank said: "Not only will I play Santa for you, I will buy the Santa suit myself. I will get it and keep it. And, I will be happy to play Santa for you as long as you want me to." I couldn't wait to get back to the station to tell Mr. Edwards the good news.
So, Frank Hogan got the Santa outfit and became the official Santa Claus of Tifton for a number of years. He was the very best one we had ever had. He needed no padding and the beard he bought was really convincing. Flying by and waving to the crowd was one of the best parts of the whole day for Frank. He looked like he had just arrived from the North Pole all ready to talk with the myriad of kids just about to die to see him. No one ever did it better than Frank. Sitting regally upon the fire truck, he was so convincing that even the adults looked like little kids when he went by. His deep voice resounding with HO..HO...HO rang above the screaming siren of the fire truck. Frank was Tifton's official Santa. He loved it all and so did we! Of course, we tried to keep his identity secret but that lasted only a few days. Soon, all the adults knew who it was but the kids were convinced that dear old Santa had truly made a voyage to Tifton from the North Pole on Thanksgiving Day to pay them a special visit. It was grand!!
The annual visit by Santa Claus to Tifton was a perfect demonstration of Middle America in the early sixties. Americana at its best. Days gone by and fondly remembered by many people in Tifton and the surrounding area. Frank passed away a number of years ago, but he will always be remembered not only as a good friend and our local favorite Ford salesman, but he will always be remembered as Tifton's Santa Claus.
William F. Harrell