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City Employees Sometimes Step In as Santa's Helpers 
Over the years, whenever Santa Claus has felt harried and needed to get his North Pole toy assembly line cranked up, City employees have occasionally stood in for him at a few of his Knoxville pre-Christmas gigs.

Here's a quick look at some City holiday revelers who have served as Santa's helpers when asked.

'I enjoyed every bit of it'

It was 2012, and Santa was hard to book. So were his regular helpers.

No problem: Public Service's Gary Durrett happily took notes for Santa as hundreds of boys and girls stood in line at Regal Celebration of Lights and Christmas at Chilhowee to pass along their wish lists.

"I just fell into it," says Durrett, now a 16-year City employee. "The regular guy couldn't do it, so they asked me if I could fill in."

Gary Durrett, Public Service (2012)
Gary Durrett, 2012

One little boy, he remembers, was insistent that Santa bring him a Tickle Me Elmo. In 2012, it was the hot toy - almost impossible to find.

"I just told him that Santa would do his very best," Durrett says.

Durrett's wife was alongside him as Mrs. Claus. Durrett had been a Santa stand-in before he came to work for the City, and he says he still plays Santa "every once in a while." Sometimes, this time of year, the Durretts pull out the 2012 Christmas clippings from the newspapers and smile.

"I enjoyed every bit of it," he says.

'Love to see the look on their faces'

Ernie Pierce, a traffic engineering manager, has been a Santa's helper (30-plus years) for nearly as long as he's been a City employee (35 years).

Pierce dons the red robe and flowing white beard annually for the Engineering Department's holiday celebration. 

Ernie Pierce (2017)
Ernie Pierce, 2017

Co-workers' children come to Pierce and dutifully present him with their Christmas wish list.

"I love to see the look on their faces," says the veteran Santa's helper. "I always look forward to that."

But the chats with Santa are not just for the youngsters. Pierce's bosses also get invited in on the fun.

"I call them up to come see Santa," he says. "I called up Deputy Director Steve King one time. I said, 'C'mon, Little Stevie' - everyone is Little Sammy, or Little Stevie, or whatever. He jumped up and about broke my leg!"

Pierce says many years ago, former Director Sam Parnell was enjoying the Engineering Christmas party, and he was given a photo of himself with Santa. Given the time period, it was an instant Polaroid.

"Ever year, I'm told, the family brings out that old Polaroid, and they put it on the family mantle," Pierce says.

Dad - are you Santa?

Scott Pfeiffer's children are now grown, and he hasn't been a Santa's helper in more than 20 years.

But Pfeiffer, a 25-year City employee who's now a Recreation Specialist at Cumberland Estates Rec Center, has the family history for it - and his stint in the red suit way back in the late 1990s caused a little brief nervousness when his son was little.

Scott Pfeiffer, mid 1990s
Scott Pfeiffer, late 1990s

The boy had happened across a photo of Pfeiffer as St. Nick, and he recognized his mom in the photo with Pfeiffer. The youngster gazed at the photo intently... "Dad - are you Santa Claus?"

Pfeiffer eventually convinced his son that there's only one Santa, and it wasn't him. Just consider that an occupational hazard when you stand in for the world's most famous toy maker.

The family history? "My grandmother dressed up as Santa when we were kids," he says. "But I could tell it was her by her eyes."
Posted by evreeland On 09 December, 2021 at 10:32 PM