Jim Dyer’s Wake Forest home looks like a winter wonderland.
He sports a white beard and one of several red suits and spends his days bringing joy to children, making memories for them that he never had.
“I do not recall going to see Santa at all,” explained Dyer. “I actually grew up in what used to be called the Baptist orphanage in the state of North Carolina.”
After living in the children’s home, attended UNC-Chapel Hill and worked two jobs.
“There was a time I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from so I enlisted in the Army,” said Dyer. He served in Vietnam and remained on active duty for more than 2 decades, during which time he first put on a Santa suit.
“I just remember the joy the first time I put on the suit and seeing the children light up,” he recalled.
Since then, he’s put on the red suit countless times. He’s visited the military overseas, heard Christmas lists at Radio City Music Hall, and met celebrities, but those aren’t his most memorable moments.
“One of my favorite visits of all time was a child that lives in this area,” he remembered. “When I opened the door, she just lit up like a lightbulb. Unfortunately, that child died this year,” he added, sadly.
Despite the grief, he’s grateful for those moments of joy he brought to the little girl.
“That was the happiest child on the planet,” he said. “As long as I have a memory, I’ll remember it.”
The suit comes with great responsibility.
“You get some heartbreaking requests. ‘Can you bring my dad home from combat zones?’ were probably the most painful ones. ‘Mom and Dad are having issues, grandmother died.’ Children can be very tenderhearted. They feel a lot of pain sometimes that adults may not recognize,” he explained.
In those moments he offers a listening ear, sometimes a prayer.
“You don’t always give tangible gifts. You give hope,” said Dyer.
“Santa is a person who encourages others, shows the true meaning of Christmas, the spirit of kindness and love.”