He had a real workshop. He had a real red suit. He had the real first name of Klaus. He even had the company of “Mrs. Claus.”
In Rock Hill for almost three decades, he rode in the last, and most anticipated float of the city’s huge Christmas parade.
And for sick kids, and special needs children, he strode into the rooms filled with cancer and illness and brought a smile in a room that needed one more than any toy or gift.
He brought hope, and he brought love.
In Rock Hill, Klaus Schmolke was Santa Claus.
“He just plain was Rock Hill’s Santa Claus,” said Mrs. Claus – Janie Schmolke, Klaus’s wife of 49 years. “He loved it. And people loved him. The children, especially.”
But even the man who played Santa Claus in Rock Hill in so many parades and at Piedmont Medical Center and at York County’s Board of Disabilities and Special Needs can’t live forever. Schmolke, 73, died Sunday after an illness.
Schmolke’s huge heart gave out.
The heart he gave to others for so long.
Klaus Schmolke was born in Germany and came to America at age 15. He spent six years in the U.S. Navy, then after working and starting a family with a wife, son Randy and daughter Judy, the Schmolkes came to Rock Hill in 1984. It wasn’t long afterward that this carpenter at Piedmont Medical Center – with a real workshop at his home, whose wife managed the gift shop at the hospital – said “I have the name, Klaus.” So, Klaus became Santa Claus.
The preparation would start before Thanksgiving. Schmolke would prepare himself for showing the children, and adults, too, that Santa Claus was not some fairy tale.
“When he put on that suit, magic happened,” said daughter Judy. “He loved it. And people loved him. He’s taking Santa to Heaven to the children there.”
Rock Hill’s Dave Jordan, nicknamed “Santa Dave” who has been Santa Claus at Rock Hill’s ChristmasVille and other functions, said that when he started, he heard of Klaus Schmolke, and met him.
“A great man and a great Santa,” said Jordan. “The best.”
Jordan was going to deliver, by sleigh, a poem to the family that all Santas get because yes, there is a Santa club.
“It is called the last sleigh ride, and Mr. Schmolke deserved it,” Jordan said. “He rode that sleigh for decades.”
He never missed giving out a “ho, ho, ho” to Rock Hill, and the community will have a chance to return the love. A Celebration of Life service is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Greene Funeral Home Northwest Chapel.
For Klaus Schmolke, playing Santa Claus was not a job. He never took a nickel for it. His family said it was more a ministry, a calling, to bring cheer to people who needed to see that Santa Claus was real.
For three decades, kids would see the suit, and the belt so thick and black and shiny that weighed 3 pounds, and the kids would know. All knew.
Santa Claus, with the big heart, was certainly real.
As long as you believed.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065