Robin Pettyjohn has been Santa Claus since he lived in Montana, more than 25 years ago.

And he will debate anyone who says Old Saint Nick isn't real.

"I'll prove it to anyone that Santa is real," Pettyjohn, a 61-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident, said.

If he does indeed exist, then Santa should be thankful for Pettyjohn taking some of the stress off him during the hectic Christmas season.

When he lived in Kalispell, Mont., Pettyjohn would drive around town on Christmas Eve, making stops at the homes of his neighbors.

Dawning a Santa suit, he would pick up the toys left outside by the parents and come bursting through the door, much to the delight of the kids.

"Oh they loved it," he said. "I would come in, with a ‘ho, ho, ho' and the toys and it would make them so happy."

His exit strategy?

"I would tell them that if they saw Santa leave, then he would never be able to come back," he said.

Years later, and some years older, Pettyjohn never ceases to break out the Santa Claus suit around Christmastime. He has hosted a Santa party at his home for the last 22 years.

His favorite part is seeing the looks on the kid's faces when they see Santa.

"You can't even explain the rewards you get as an individual," Pettyjohn said. "It is the best thing I have ever done."

Last year he visited with more than 100 underprivileged kids from Stanfield, Ariz. He played Santa, heard their Christmas wishes and handed out little toys here and there. But the highlight of the night was a raffle for five brand-new bicycles.

When the final name was called, it left dozens of kids disappointed, something Pettyjohn said he just couldn't handle.

"Some kids were crying their hearts out," he said. "It really, really bothered me."

So this year he is hoping to bring that number way up with the help of the community and the Ahwatukee Foothills Kiwanis Club. They are accepting gently used bicycles for all ages.

"We changed it up a little bit this year, with help from Kiwanis and we have already seen some positive feedback from the community," Pettyjohn said.

Being Santa helped him through a tough time in the past and because of that he can see how important of a symbol the guy with a white beard can be.

"At the time, it was the first year after I was divorced, and it was depressing because Christmas isn't the same without family around," he said. "And a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, you like kids, let's get you a suit.' And from there it turned into an annual thing. Santa Claus was and is a way to survive depression."

Being Santa has also given him a deeper insight into children than he expected.

"I had a little girl come up to me and I asked her, ‘What do you want for Christmas?' and she said ‘Nothing, I already got my present.' And I said, ‘What was it?' and she said she got her family back," Pettyjohn said. "Then I had a little boy come up to me and say what he wanted for Christmas was a real dad. I can't tell that story without getting emotional."

To help Pettyjohn and the Kiwanis, donate gently used bicycles to Ahwatukee Foothills Self Storage, 1023 E. Frye Road. For more information, visit, or call (480) 759-1934.

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