He reached for a pair of red fleece pants and a matching jacket. On his head went a red, floppy hat and on his face sat a curly, white beard. Beneath the beard, a bittersweet smile.
With his uniform on, Don Rosenthal sauntered out of a bathroom at Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial to usher in the Christmas spirit for more than 200 children. After playing Santa for the young patients for more than 30 years, Rosenthal donned the suit one last time Tuesday afternoon, but not without teary eyes and a trip down memory lane.
“I was flattered when they asked [me to dress as Santa Claus],” Rosenthal said. “I wanted to do something that would be rewarding.”
Rosenthal, a mortgage insurance manager just 27 days shy of his 65th birthday, describes himself as “not a low-key guy.”
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“I like being the center of attention,” he explained. “I’m a salesman, so that should tell you something.”
Aside from giving him an outlet for his extroverted personality, playing Santa Claus brought Rosenthal’s family closer together. His wife Monique joined him as Mrs. Claus for more than 20 years, and their daughter, Paige, now 23, sported an elf costume before she could even speak.
“It’s brought a lot to our family, and even our friends,” Monique said, adding that Don’s Jewish faith was never a matter of discussion.
“This isn’t about religion,” she explained. “It’s about the kids.”
According to Jackson spokewoman Lidia Amoretti, 236 children fill the linoleum-tiled rooms of Holtz. Their ages range from just a few months to teenagers. For them, Don’s annual visit is a respite from fighting various forms of illness.
“I think of how lucky we really are that we don’t have to go through this,” Don said.
The Mortgage Bankers Association of South Florida, of which Don is a member, organizes Santa’s Flight each year — a parade around the Jackson campus that features the Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School marching band and Santa Claus hovering almost seven stories into the air on the telescopic hook-and-ladder of a City of Miami fire truck.
This year, the mortgage bankers purchased, wrapped and distributed more than 200 presents to the young patients of Holtz.
Don says he can’t predict what it will be like to give up his post as Santa Claus. Instead, he offers his successor a few words of advice.
“Have energy. Be entertaining. Have personality.”