BAXTER -- Baxter's Charles Berns has come out of retirement.
The former Santa Claus at the East Brainerd Mall is back in action after a three-year layoff. This year Berns is one of three jolly ol' fellas at the Westgate Mall.
"It's like being back home again, getting back in the groove again," Santa said the other day.
Berns, 75, who retired from the grocery business nearly 25 years ago, took a break from being a Santa for about three years during the illness of his late wife, Elaine.
It was his penchant for portraying the bearded fellow that led to his first date with Elaine. He asked her to sew him a new Santa suit. She did and the rest is history. She even helped him serve cookies during some of his Santa stints at the East Brainerd Mall.
It's a busy time of year for Santa, especially if he keeps busy in his workshop like the one who calls the North Pole home. Berns proudly showed visitors some of the furniture he has made over the years. That ranges from a hutch to what he calls a "gabbing bench," a place to sit and talk on the telephone.
He has even made some toys and Christmas decorations in the shed overlooking Perch Lake.
He knows the real meaning of Christmas. He's an active trustee for the Brainerd Community Covenant Church.
One of nine children growing up a Perham farm, there were no malls for seeing Santa. But he remembers the time an older sister's husband dressed up in the red suit. When the sister leaned over and whispered to Santa some of the children figured it out. They started singing the song about seeing someone kissing Santa Claus.
Charlie got into the act while still living in Perham.
"I grew a beard one time and it was white," Berns said. "Someone said I'd make a good Santa."
So he started the tradition in a Perham drugstore.
"I get a kick out of dressing up like Santa," he with a gleam in his eyes -- just like the North Pole's Santa.
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