Santa’s mantra: It’s all about kids and their dreams at this most wonderful time of the year


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Last year, before I wrote this article, Ken Schreiber and I had talked on the phone and arranged to meet at a coffee place downtown for our interview, but I forgot to suggest a way to make sure that we recognized each other.

Luckily Laguna’s Santa Claus was easy to spot, even without a sleigh or elves or jingle bells anywhere in sight. Ken’s full white beard and luxuriant white hair, kindly blue eyes, and red T-shirt hugging his comfortable girth made it clear: I was in the presence of the authentic Santa. 

I sat down and asked for a house with an ocean view for Christmas, and mentioned a few other things on my list. (Not really, but the urge was hard to resist.)

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Santa has great listening skills for whispered wishes

“Sometimes I’ll be in a store, like Costco, without my suit and hat, but I’ll see a kid look at me and give their mom a nudge,” he says. “I just wink.”

Ken clearly revels in the opportunity that his role gives him to bring joy and happiness to the children who visit him with their dreams and hopes. 

“They are so excited, so full of wonder,” he says. “I see their minds turning over and over as they tell me their wishes. It’s all about the kids this time of year. I love it.”

Ken adds that almost entirely without exception, the kids are great (though he was once briefly scolded for spilling milk). Parents, on the other hand, can very occasionally be a problem. Santa does not like it when moms and dads are impatient. 

“Let the kids talk, let them take their time,” he urges. “They’re dreaming, they’re imagining, they’re making lists in their heads. Don’t cut them off.”

Hooked on giving

Ken and his family became hooked on the rewards of giving long before Ken took classes in the nineties at USC to learn the art of being Santa Claus. Back in Chicago, in the eighties, he and his wife and kids had volunteered for years with a group that gave away Happy Meals and other goodies to kids challenged by difficult circumstances.

Thus becoming Santa Claus seemed a natural sequel once Ken had more time to devote to his new vocation.

“One of my happiest memories is the day I was given the chance to fulfill the dream of a child through the Make-A-Wish program,” he says, his voice a little shaky with emotion. 

“All that a seriously ill young lad, he was maybe six years old, wanted was a chance to light a Christmas tree. I rode with him in a horse and carriage and gave him a container of fairy dust, confetti. We arrived at a huge tree that was part of the parade. He took a handful of the dust and we counted slowly: One. Two. Three. Then he tossed the dust toward the tree and it exploded with light.” Ken shakes his head in wonder recalling that moment. “The kid’s eyes were like saucers. It was a gift to me, to see his happiness at something simple yet amazing to him.”

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If this isn’t the authentic Santa Claus, I don’t know who is

Ken is a member of Real Bearded Santas, a group of honest-to-goodness bearded men who meet regularly to share their experiences. 

“I believe it started when a company hired a bunch of Santas for a commercial they were making,” he says. “The Santas found they had a lot in common and decided to form the group.”

I asked if Santas were competitive. Ken doesn’t believe so, instead emphasizes that the ones he knows help each other, but clearly he does take pleasure, as he should, for being selected in the past to be Santa at South Coast Plaza, which some believe to be the Super Bowl of Santa-dom. 

Fortunately for Laguna, Ken’s current position at the Sawdust Art Festival and Hospitality Night keep him busy here in his hometown.

Ken recalls the magic of his own childhood Christmas mornings, and the care his father took to create the most wondrous of Christmas trees.

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Santa Claus brings joy to children at the Sawdust

“My dad would get three trees and then cut them apart to create a single amazing tree covered with tinsel and decorations,” Ken recalls. “That was his pride and joy. We would wake up to see his creation and our gifts would be there, once a train set with the train going around and around the tree, once an entire toy ranch with cows and everything.”

But Ken does not like to talk about himself – not his successful career in the printing industry, not his love of swimming as exercise (“I don’t like to sweat”), not even his deep affection for Laguna Beach. 

“It’s all about the kids,” he reminds me. “That’s why I do this. That’s all that matters to me, their joy.”

Spoiler Alert: Santa’s secrets

We’ve all heard of Secret Santas, but how many of us know Santa’s secrets? Ken agreed to tell me a few little-known facts about life as Santa. 

One is this: to figure out what kids might like for Christmas, he asks what they chose to wear for Halloween. “If they were a character from Frozen, or Jungle Book, that gives me a great clue for our conversation,” he says.

Then there’s this: many, if not most, of the Real Bearded Santas pay a visit to a salon in the weeks before Christmas to achieve just the right shade of white for their hair and beard. “It’s a three-hour procedure for me,” Ken says. “But it’s part of the fun, and I often see my Santa colleagues there under the dryers.”

Another secret that’s maybe not so secret: Santa doesn’t actually need a chimney to deliver gifts.

“When kids ask me about coming down the chimney, though they don’t much these days, I just ask them: did I visit your house last year?” he says. “Almost always they say yes, and I say, see, it’s magic – I don’t need a chimney. And they’re fine with hearing that.”

And if a child says, “No, you didn’t come last year,” Ken makes sure to let an elf know to check whether the family is too poor to afford Christmas presents. Then Santa Ken can help make gifts happen through one of the nonprofits that specialize in such things, such as Toys for Tots. He is more than delighted to be able to help.

Finally, I wanted to know why Ken thought Christmas was so very magical, for kids and often adults too. He thought for a while. 

“Because,” he said, “we all want to feel special, to be loved, to be noticed. To feel that we matter. Santa helps kids to feel important no matter what else is going on in their lives. When they talk to Santa, they’re the star of the show. And Christmas brings out the kid in all of us.”

So true.

I said goodbye, drove home, and hung up my stocking.

This article ran last year in December, but since Ken is still going strong as Santa, we thought it would be fun to rerun it with new photographs from Mary. Check in with Santa and photographer Mary Hurlbut at the Winter Sawdust Festival!

Barbara’s Column

More thanks



As I predicted last week, I missed a couple of fundraising events, but just because Thanksgiving is over is no reason to stop giving thanks.

Here are some more organizations that deserve our gratitude.

The Laguna Beach Rotary Club provides entertainment for car buffs with its annual Classic Car Show in October and raises funds for local non-profits and for scholarships for graduating seniors.

Speaking of which, countless numbers of local high school graduates and their parents owe thanks to the Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation and to the donors who contributed to it. This June, $380,975 was distributed to 147 students by 131 donors. The local Ebell Club started it all in 1947.

The Fourth Annual Gratitude for Glenwood Gala on Oct. 7 at The Ranch was sold out. The event helps fund independent living for young adults with special needs.

Taste of Laguna on Oct. 19 was a night to savor. A record-breaking crowd attended the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce signature event, held on the Festival of Arts Grounds. Tasty samples by Laguna’s finest restaurants and chefs were showcased. The number of participants also broke an event record, according to Nia Evans, Chamber marketing and event manager. 

Chamber programs benefited.

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Taste of Laguna made no bones about being a great bash

Still to Come

The Laguna Beach Woman’s Club’s annual Tarnished Treasures luncheon offers two ways to give: donations to the sale and buying the donations of others.

“What you don’t need may be exactly what someone else treasures,” said luncheon chair Cheryl Kinsman.

Donations can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays at Kinsman & Kinsman, 32355 Coast Highway or from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays or from 1 to 5 the clubhouse, 286 St. Ann’sDrive.  

No large items such as sofas, furniture or mattresses, but practically anything else is welcomed, particularly holiday decorations, art, jewelry, toys and sports equipment.

Admission is $35 for members, $40 for non-members. Reservations required by Monday. Call club President Kitty Malcolm for more information.    

Proceeds and any donations not bought at the luncheon will benefit underserved families in Laguna.

The annual Christmas Party started by Sande S. John and Marsha Bode about 27 years ago in a parking lot is scheduled for 4 p.m., Dec. 9 at the Woman’s Club.

Donations specifically for the party may be dropped off starting at 8 a.m. that day.  

“We need folks to adopt a family,” said St. John.

A gift that keeps on giving

Everybody owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Laguna Greenbelt Inc. For almost 50 years---the group will celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018---the group has fought to preserve open space surrounding Laguna Beach as well as the plants and animals that live in it.

Greenbelt members have battled with major landowners, politicians and public inertia in court, in the press and on ballots to save Laguna Canyon and nearby wildlands from development. 

The 22,000-acres of coastal open space that separates Laguna both geographically and philosophically from the rest of South Orange County is comprised of Laguna Coast, and Aliso and Woods Canyons wilderness parks, Bommer Canyon, Quail Hill, Crystal Cove State Park and Upper Newport Bay.

But the Greenbelt is not resting on its (Laguna) Laurels.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna’s wilderness park/greenbelt is the gift that keeps on giving

The group is working diligently to connect the coastal open space to the Cleveland National Forest, which will allow animals to move freely from the coast to the top of the Santa Ana Mountains.

“We are looking at 50 years of activism, hopefully finalizing the wildlife corridor to ensure the continued proliferation of our wildlife,” said Greenbelt Vice President Norm Grossman.

According to a recent letter from long-time Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown, animals and the plants that nourish them must be able to migrate between the preserved open spaces in order to survive and thrive. 

Unfortunately for critters, parks and preserves – mostly acquired piecemeal –were were not planned to connect. Many have become green oases, surrounded by neighborhoods and roads, neither conducive to wildlife longevity.

The Greenbelt’s efforts need financial support: Memberships cost $35 for the calendar year. 

Join or renew memberships at

We owe it to the Greenbelt and to ourselves.

But wait – there’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading

Ocean Institute’s Sand Dollar Guild holds holiday fashion show benefit on Dec 4 at 6 p.m. on campus

Dazzle, glimmer and glitter will be on show at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point on Dec 4 at 6 p.m. when the Institute’s Sand Dollar Guild holds its annual Fashion Show. The event will be held in the Samueli Center on their campus at 24200 Harbor Drive. All proceeds benefit the Ocean Institute’s Special Needs Learning program. 

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Sutton Place Boutique will donate its time and expertise for a successful show

Samueli Center will be in party mode with dinner by Gemmels Restaurant in Dana Point, silent auction, raffle, and entertainment. 

Sutton Place Boutique of Laguna Beach  is donating its time and expertise and local ladies are modeling.The Sand Dollar Guild membership will present a check to the Ocean Institute from their fundraising activities this year.

For tickets and information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . For more information about the Sand Dollar Guild:

Steve Kaye will speak about Garden Photography at the LB Garden Club on Dec 8

On the Fri, Dec 8 meeting of the LB Garden Club, speaker Steve Kaye will discuss Garden Photography, or How to Take Better Pictures. Steve feels a connection with nature and a compassion for life which guide his focus for photographs that capture the extraordinary essence of the earth’s beauty in flowers and birds in California gardens.

 Photographs inspire respect for Nature, and offer uniquely wonderful experiences and memorable stories.  Attendees will discover how the “art of seeing” leads to better, more memorable photos and they will gain tips, tricks and techniques used by professional photographers.

At one of Steve’s workshops, a professional photographer said “It took me four years to learn what you just covered in 20 minutes.” 

The Laguna Beach Garden Club meets on the second Fri of every month, Sept through May at the Laguna Presbyterian Church, located at 415 Forest Avenue. The event starts with a 9:30 a.m. Social and 10 a.m. General Meeting. 

The public is welcome, there is no charge for guests on their first visit. Before or after the meeting, browse the outdoor “Garden Boutique” where donated garden-related items and plants can be purchased at “dirt-cheap” prices.

Fantastic garden gloves only $7/pair. Parking: Free in the Laguna Canyon Road lot (spaces 300-422) or $3 for all day in spaces 185-228.  For more information on the Garden Club:

Swing with Santa as LagunaTunes presents a free holiday concert at LBHS’s Artists’ Theatre Dec 17

Get in the holiday spirit when LagunaTunes Community Chorus performs at a free holiday program, “Swingin with Santa,” on Dec 17 at 4 p.m. in the Artists’ Theatre at Laguna Beach High School. The program features a light-hearted treatment of Christmas favorites in an upbeat swing style, as well as some beautiful and inspiring choral selections. 

It’s a family show, suitable for all ages. LagunaTunes, a no-audition chorus, welcomes singers of all training and experience levels. Some members read music, some do not, age levels cover a broad range, and all are united by a love of music. The emphasis is on fun, learning, improving performance skills, and the joy of group singing. 

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LagunaTunes Community Chorus

They perform two concerts a year, one in Dec and another in June. New members are welcome to join when rehearsals for the June concert begin in Feb. The 50-member chorus is led by Bob Gunn, popular director of Orange County’s Men Alive chorus and Laguna’s St. Mary’s choir. Gunn’s entertaining choral productions are well known throughout southern CA. 

LagunaTunes is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides choral singing to everyone. Funding is provided by the Festival of Arts Foundation and The Lodging Establishments and City of Laguna Beach. 

LBHS is located at 625 Park Ave.

For more information: or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The Huddle will be huddling at NCC on Dec 5 at 6:30 p.m. to listen to guest speakers on current issues

The Laguna Beach Women’s March Huddle will meet on Dec 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Neighborhood Congregational Church to discuss coordination on a regional level with other local groups and develop its own “mini-huddles.”

The plan is to rally together and prepare for the anniversary of the Women’s March, meet with and hear from other progressive organizations in the area, and get an update from the Criminal Justice mini-huddle regarding the Inmate Firefighter Appreciation Project and other initiatives.

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The Huddle expects a large crowd as seen here from a previous meeting

The meeting will also feature presenters including Don Han, Senior Human Relations Specialist, of the OC Human Relations. Han has been with OCHRC since 2001. He is the manager of the Police Community Reconciliation Program. This program works in collaboration with the OC Sheriff’s Department to address low-level complaints against OC Sheriff’s personnel. Don also responds to reported hate crimes and hate incidents in the county and coordinates the release of the annual hate crime report. He earned a Sociology Degree from Cal State Fullerton and is a former Human Relations Commissioner for the City of Santa Ana. 

#HateFreeOC is OC Human Relations’ public education and awareness campaign designed to cultivate a hate-free environment in Orange County, bring diverse communities together, and promote a safe, peaceful, respectful, and inclusive community for all to live, work, go to school and do business.

Additional speakers include Joanne Joyce Weiss of WAVE (Women for American Values and Ethics), a diverse group of non-partisan women which exists to empower the advancement of American Ethics and Values; Faye Hezar of Imagine Action OC, 

a diverse and inclusive group “caring deeply about our nation and our plan through solidarity and grass-roots action”; Cottie Petrie-Norris of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club; and Mary Carter - State Delegate,responsible for representing our Assembly District to the California Democratic Party and what that means to our community.

The Neighborhood Congregational Church is located at 340 St. Ann’s Drive. The event starts with a social gathering at 6:30 followed by the meeting from 7 – 8:30 p.m.

To RSVP, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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