Mrs. Santa Claus has been busy in Johnson County all month. You may have seen her at a nursing home, sitting and holding hands with a resident, carefully listening.
Sylvia Boese has played Mrs. Santa for 20 years here, never asking for anything in return.
“It gives me joy to help others,” she said with a smile. “I can’t really explain it. I want to make everyone happy if I can. It breaks my heart to see someone lonely that really wants and needs a listener — especially at Christmas.”
She learned to listen as a child.
“I was born here in Cleburne. As an only child, we visited my grandmother, Lavada Jackson, but with my cousins not always there, I was mostly around older people. I would overhear them talk and saw how each one really needed someone to listen to them.
“When I married Curtis Boese he was 27 years older than I was. We had 23 years together, but the last five of those years were at Cleburne Rehabilitation Health Care where he was a patient.”
That’s when Sylvia began her visits as Mrs. Santa Claus.
“My grandchildren played elves to help me. At first I wore a red broomstick skirt and a red sweater. The wig I wore was one I ordered from a catalog while I worked at Beall’s. I handed out the packages the nursing home and families brought to the tree. I sang with them and passed out my candy canes. Later, a friend sewed a dress for me. I bought an apron.”
Curtis passed away in 1997. She couldn’t forget all the people she left behind.
“I began working at Bennett’s [Printing and Office Supply]. After work, I called around the nursing homes and asked if I could visit at Christmastime as Mrs. Santa. Their first question was always the same: ‘How much do you charge?’
“I told them there was no charge — that it was my way of giving something back to God.
“I don’t have much income. I still have to work at 71 years of age, but I can give of myself.”
She goes each year to the Wesley Methodist Church on their family dinner night at Christmas time.
“I have so much fun going to the Dollar Tree store, shopping for little gifts for each of the children there. I read stories to them. Usually the pastor chooses what I should read.”
She buys tiny candy canes for the adults at Heritage Trails, Town Hall Estates, Grandview Nursing Home and Santa Fe Trails. She walks through La Fiesta Restaurant, to treat the children.
“I also go to Sunshine Restaurant’s Christmas party as Mrs. Santa. A regular customer there, I feel like their family is mine.”
She has visited homes of shut-ins upon request.
“Sometimes I ask others to tell me the best Christmas they remember. I’ve been told about dogs or cats they received as gifts. One had a baby sister born on Christmas Day. There were memories of a bicycle that a father rebuilt and repainted as good as new.”
Many remembered the lonely Christmases during World War II. One lady’s husband came home and the others in the neighborhood were still away. She invited their families to come to her home and they shared their Christmas meal together. They were excited to have meat during those days of rationing, she said.
I asked Sylvia about her best Christmas.
“When my mother, Lovie, married J. L. Banks, my stepfather, I was 6. I still remember what I got for Christmas: a metal dollhouse with furniture and a doll. “
But J. L. Banks, himself, was her best present. He provided love and acceptance to her and later, to her two sons, John “Chip” and Kim Taylor, now deceased. Sylvia has nine grandchildren.
She wears orthopedic shoes, and walking any distance is not easy.
“I go to each room before everyone gathers for the nursing home tree, she said.
“Not everyone is able to be in a large group. Some don’t want to go. I don’t want them to be left out.”
Quite a talker, she’s quick to respond to questions.
“I made a visit to a nursing home the day we had a little dusting of snow on our rooftops this year. A cute little great-grandson of a resident was full of questions for me.”
The child asked her if she had ridden in Santa’s sleigh to get to Cleburne.
“Oh, no. Only Santa drives his sleigh,” she said. “He was much too busy making toys for the boys and girls. He took me to Anchorage, Alaska, where I flew in an airplane all the way to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. He had arranged for a hotel room and a rental car for me.”
The child was shocked when she told him she was angry at Santa.
“I wanted to bring my coat and he said, ‘No. You’re going to Texas. It’s hot in Texas.’ And when I saw the snow on the roof this morning I knew how cold I would be.”
She said as she visited a 104-year-old, the lady kept touching her wig, telling her how beautiful her hair was.
After our interview, Mrs. Santa made a visit to Santa Fe Trails to visit Mrs. Dallie Ripley who recently observed her 100th birthday.
A friend of Sylvia’s told me that Sylvia was the most thoughtful person she had ever known. She admired the way she telephoned others to be sure they were all right and how she always knew how to help someone and make them feel better.
One day Sylvia received some help, herself. She was in line to pay for her tiny candy canes at Walgreen’s.
“I was dressed as Mrs. Santa and a lady behind me began to ask questions. When I opened my purse to pay, she said, ‘No, I want to help you with this.’ She had a friend that did the same thing in another state — she paid for me.”
Not every nursing home resident has family that visits them, Sylvia observed.
“I don’t want to see anyone hurt and suffer from no one loving them. If I can give them a smile, then that’s what I should do.”
Mrs. Nancy Hagood, office manager at Town Hall Estates, says a visit from Mrs. Santa does exactly that.
“I knew Sylvia and her late husband when they worked at Gibson’s,” she said. “She brings a smile to everybody’s face. Some of our younger, disabled residents begin asking early in the season when she will be visiting. They give their letters to Santa to her and asks her to take them back to the North Pole.
“Her visits are truly a part of our Christmas tradition here.”
Sylvia is a member of Field Street Baptist Church in Cleburne. She explained, “John 3:16, is my favorite scripture — one that almost everyone knows.
“‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…..’
“If God could give me his greatest gift, then the least I can do is to give him something back.”
Larue Barnes may be reached at email@example.com.