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Minnesota National Guard
Santas work offseason to benefit injured vets

Article by: ANNA PRATT, Special to the Star Tribune Updated: July 18, 2012 - 12:01 AM

The Minnesota Real-Bearded Santa Club will host a July 25 golf tournament at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project


These days golfing is a challenge, said the retired Daniel Hanson But his alter ego, Santa Daniel, claims it just takes a sprinkling of "magic dust" to improve his game

Through the Minnesota Real-Bearded Santa Club, the 63-year-old Champlin resident is an organizer of an event called "Santas Celebrity Golf Tournament," which is scheduled for next Wednesday at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids Besides a "shotgun start" format in which players begin at the same time, the event includes dinner and a silent auction

That day a bunch of Santas will be on the green, though none of them will wear their full suits because of the heat Instead, they'll don red and green golf attire, he said

Proceeds from the event will go to the national Wounded Warrior Project, a Jacksonville, Fla-based nonprofit that has various programs to assist injured military service members

Although the Santas club has taken on a number of charitable causes through the years, this is the first time it's hosted an event like this It came about when Santa Daniel, whose two brothers served in the military, spoke up about finding a way "to support these men and women who have come home [from war] with these catastrophic injuries," he said "We need to be there for them"

The Minnesota Santas, which was founded in 1994, is one of the largest clubs of its kind in the country with 115 members, including 45 Mrs Clauses, according to club information

Santa Daniel joined the group about a decade ago, around the same time that he decided to take up the character -- something that his wife, Doris, OK'd with one caveat: "She told me, 'don't ever call me Mrs Claus,' " he said

The club is a good way to stay connected to other Santas, swap stories and support one another, said Santa Daniel

The only requirement, at least for the men, is a real beard, though that could soon change, he said Right now, the group is looking into the possibility of formalizing as a limited liability company to afford legal protections and entertainment-related insurance for the Santas

Some of the club's members, whose gigs take them everywhere from malls to hospitals to private parties, keep up the look year-round

Santa Daniel said it helps when he's driving "I have to remember I look like Santa, so I have to behave myself on the road," he said

But mainly, he loves bringing cheer to people wherever he goes "When children come up to you and you see the smiles on their faces, it's magical," he said

The feeling is hard to describe, but when "you get dressed up, you feel like Santa and everyone sees you as Santa," he said

Christmas in July

Gary Spooner, who goes by Santa Spoons, agreed The Cottage Grove resident, who also has been helping with the fundraiser's details, has been a Santa for so long -- 37 years -- that it's become a way of life

He drives a car that looks like a sleigh, and its license plate spells out SANTA G His office is decorated with Santa pictures, too

Santa Spoons already has picked out his outfit for the golf tournament, including red socks that say, "Ho Ho Ho" "I think it's going to be a great deal of fun," he said, adding, "It'll be a little Christmas in July that Santa is giving"

John Kriesel, a retiring state representative who now leads the Anoka County Veterans, also is looking forward to the game He's a golf lover, but the cause also holds special meaning for him

Kriesel, a Wounded Warrior Project alumnus, is a former Minnesota National Guard member who lost both of his legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2006

Thanks to the help of those around him, "I've settled into a new normal and I'm happier than I've ever been I've learned a great deal," he said "I want to do anything to help others get to the same spot"

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer
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