By Ruth Lyon
Turley Publications Reporter
WARE – Santa Claus, the big guy with the white beard, twinkling eyes, and generous heart, is known for surprising folks. But this time, the surprise was on him. Richard Fulton, known through the area Santa Claus, was honored Tuesday as Ware Rotary Club’s Citizen of the Year.
Close to 100 Rotarians, town, business and state officials, and friends gathered at Debby Wong’s restaurant to honor the man who exemplifies volunteerism in this community.
Marcia Vadnais, Ware Rotary Club president, said the choice was easy. “He exemplifies our motto, “Service above self. He is always stepping up to the plate and giving 150 percent of himself. We’re proud to be able to pay tribute to such an outstanding citizen. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
It was a feel-good occasion. The room filled with cheerful well-wishers before Richard “Dick” Fulton and his wife of 52 years, Lorraine arrived. Their daughter Karen and her husband, Bob MacAllister had arrived from Chester, VT to participate in the celebration. “I was born on Christmas Eve,” Karen smiled, “ and of course I still believe in Santa Claus. Why shouldn’t I? He’s my dad.” An obviously surprised Fulton was greeted with hugs and applause.
As people lined up for the buffet, the family related their tale of Christmases past. Karen was aged four, they related, when a local charitable organization asked Dick to play Santa at a Christmas party. He readily agreed. In one of the many photo albums they’ve since filled, they say, is a photo of that occasion, which appeared in the Ware River News. A four-year-old Karen is, in time-honored tradition, confiding her fondest wishes to white-bearded Santa. She was unaware that his other, more familiar name was “Dad.”
Dick’s performance must have been great. “I’ve been a December widow ever since, that’s more than 30 years,” says his wife, Lorraine. “I just accept that whatever I’m doing in December, I’ll be doing alone.” Santa Claus now dons his red suit for more than 30 groups and organizations every December. He does it, he says, for fun. He has never accepted remuneration for these or other charitable enterprises, such as the annual Shirley Batsie “roses for cancer” program. He travels to the Leeds Hospital in Northampton for Santa’s visits, and his appearances on Ware’s Public Access television are notable.
Stanley Ciukaj, general manager of Ware Community ‘’access TV, says he’s already reserved Dick’s appearance for next December, “and every year after that, if he’ll come.” For at least 10 years, Dick has starred in a two-hour “phone Santa” program. Kids of all ages call in to speak with Santa live, discuss their fondest wishes, and share confidences and Christmas spirit with Old Saint Nick.
The Ware Rotary Club has been proffering citizen of the year awards since 1980. “We like to recognize people who make a difference in the community, said Jeri Vadnais, rotary past president and co-chair with Gail Moryl of the citizen of the year selection committee. “Dick is an outstanding person in this community. It was certainly an easy choice.” Surveying the filled-to- capacity room, she said, “he is just such a loved and loving man. We can’t say enough about him and what he contributes to community life. Look at these people. They’re here because they love and appreciate him. He’s just unique.”
In presenting the award, she read from a list of Dick’s numerous contributions to community life.
State Rep. Anne Gobi presented awards as well, commented on the number of constituents he’d held on his lap in more than 30 years. “ I was one of them,” she said.
Dick, in response, was brief. Expressing his appreciation to all, he remarked that he’d had help, over the years, that he continues to enjoy his red-suited role, and that “It’s time to get together with my seamstress again.”
Gobi evidently struck a chord with her closing remark, saying “volunteers don’t get paid because they’re worthless, but because they’ve priceless.”