When 58-year-old Ervin Dennis walks the streets of DeSoto, Texas, a couple of miles outside of Dallas, not many of those who see him realize he has a secret life.
A truck driver for the last 34 years, his life appears pretty normal on the surface. He makes an honest living by reporting to his job at Redi-Mix Concrete at 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, where he hauls over 100 tons of rocks each day. At 4 a.m. he sets out for home.
But on the weekends, Dennis has time to indulge his second passion – making appearances at parties and other social events as Santa Claus.
He says it all started about four years ago when he bought a Santa suit to amuse his family and friends for the holidays, but he always knew he looked like St. Nick. “Whenever I walk into anyone’s presence, there’s no doubt who I look like. Before I started doing Santa, no matter where we would go, kids would come up and say, ‘Are you Santa Claus?'” After that initial question, the children would want to know more, like where his reindeer were, and if he lived at the North Pole.
Dennis says his long, gray beard has always gotten him attention. He’s even had parents back their cars up when they see him walking down the street, just to allow their children to wave and sneak a peek at the look-alike in jeans and a T-shirt. “My beard is full and real,” he says with a giggle.
A couple of years ago, Dennis decided to go professional with his natural talent when he began North Pole Events, a business that allows him to do what he does best: look like Santa. “It’s just a little side business for now,” he says.
During the holiday season, Dennis travels throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area making appearances and having pictures taken. “I am extremely patient with kids,” he says. “I have an ability to communicate with them without hollering at the top of my lungs. They instinctively trust me because I have a good heart.”
Dennis, who has been driving a truck since he was in high school, gave up the thrill of the open road in April 2000. The Arkansas native says he stayed in the business for the same reason he originally got into it. “It was just a hoot,” he says. “I really enjoyed it. The idea of sitting high just intrigued me, and it has stuck with me.”
His first hauling job was transporting watermelons for the local A&P. “I’ve gotten out a couple of times, but I’ve always gone back,” he says. “It’s something I really enjoy.” He has always liked the adventure of being gone and meeting new people, and even convinced his ex-wife to get into the business for a while.
The grandfather of two describes children as the most honest people in the world, and says he cherishes the time he spends with his 11-year-old granddaughter. Dennis says he realizes that it is often hard for kids to warm up to adults they don’t know, so sometimes he carries his granddaughter along with him as an elf. He says having her around makes it easier for the children to feel comfortable with him.
“Sometimes it was difficult to say our goodbyes,” he says. “They didn’t want Santa Claus to leave.”
Last year, North Pole Events was very successful. “I got so busy that I had to turn people down,” Dennis says. “I’m determined that won’t happen this year.” He hired a booking agent to line up appearances for this holiday season well in advance.
Dennis made an appearance at a Christmas party for underprivileged kids last year, and he says he is working with Coca-Cola and a number of other major businesses in the area to organize a similar event this year for poor children in south Dallas.
Dennis says he believed in Santa Claus until he was 15. He got a new bicycle for Christmas with a tag on it that read “Merry Christmas, from Santa.” He realized that Santa was not absolutely real when he noticed that the tag was attached with the same tape his father used at work.
Now, Dennis says he realizes that Christmas has a new meaning: It’s about being with family and simply spreading joy.
Although he is only a part-time Santa now, Dennis has bigger plans for the business in the future. “I would hope I could do this well enough to give up trucking,” he says. But for now he tries to enjoy each day and live by his favorite motto: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift from God; that’s why it’s called the present.”
Tiffany Lacey is a journalism major at The University of Alabama.