Bill & Janice Roe Continue Role of Mr. & Mrs. Claus for 44th Year
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Bill and Janice Roe have been married for nearly five decades, but some might say they’ve been a power couple for the past 44 years. That’s because they’ve been playing Santa and Mrs. Claus since 1978. The two met when they both worked at the Howard Johnson restaurant. The first time he met her, Bill (who had previously been employed in Las Vegas), was dressed in a sequined shirt and black pants with a stripe down the side.
“I thought the outfit was kind of weird, and then he asked me out for pizza,” recalls Janice. “But I was starving so I agreed!”
The two tied the knot in Kokomo in November 1973 and have lived here ever since.
The first time Bill played Santa was when he was in the Army National Guard and was instructed to dress up as St. Nick for the Guard’s annual Christmas party. Although he wasn’t thrilled at the thought of having to wear a wig and false beard and glue cotton onto his eyebrows, the moment he donned the red suit and black boots, he was hooked.
“I had so much fun with the kids,” says Bill, who got Janice involved playing Mrs. Claus. The couple has many great memories of time spent with little ones. For instance, one time they were at a military base when two little kids came up to sit on Bill’s lap. They were happy to see Santa and yet sad because they wanted to see their daddy for Christmas.
“I knew their dad was out back,” Bill says. “When he came in and those kids saw him, they forgot all about Santa!”
Another time when the couple was working at a mall when a terminal boy visited Santa.
“That tore me up,” Bill says.
Bill and Janice have a fondness for working with special needs children because they raised one of their own. When Janice was pregnant, she fell on black ice. Jamie was born an ultra-preemie, weighing barely two pounds.
“Doctors kept telling me he wasn’t going to make it, and I said, ‘You do your part, and we will accept God’s verdict,’” Janice says.
Jamie did survive and was born with cerebral palsy and a mild mental disability.
“We were told that his arms and legs would be crippled and that he would never be able to read or write, but I taught him to read at first grade level,” says Janice, who used to work as a full-time substitute special ed teacher. She was often booked for weeks in advance because everyone loved her and wanted her in their classrooms. Bill worked in sporting goods at Montgomery Ward, as a bakery truck driver and as a tool setter at Chrysler.
They raised seven children. Jamie passed away in 2003 at age 38.
“If you see special needs children and you aren’t choked up with tears coming out of your eyes, there’s something wrong with you,” Bill says.
For a long time, the couple played Santa and Mrs. Claus part-time. When Bill retired in 2006, he went to Midland, Michigan, to attend the CW Howard Santa School, the longest continuously running Santa Claus school in the U.S. The three-day training teaches participants the dos and don’ts of playing Santa.
Through the years, Bill and Janice brought Santa and Mrs. Claus to the Kokomo Armory, the We Care Park, various malls in Kokomo & Fort Wayne and December’s First Friday event in front of the Howard County courthouse in downtown Kokomo.
Four years ago, Bill got quite sick and wondered if the time was coming that he would have to hang up his red bag and retire the reindeer, as it were. But then he started feeling better and the jingle bells once again began to ring. This is not to say that they haven’t dialed back the appearances in recent years. After all, they are both 76 years old.
“We have trouble walking, and we get short-winded pretty quickly,” Bill says, noting that they didn’t participate in December’s First Friday parade last year because they couldn’t safely step onto the carriage.
The couple used to work with five different photographers, but it was getting to be too much so now they travel to a friend’s photography studio for a full weekend of 15-minute photo sessions with children and families.
“We start at 10 a.m. and finish around 7 p.m.,” Bill says. While it seems that their face muscles would be tired from all that smiling, they insist they are not.
“We can smile for hours,” Janice says. “Doesn’t bother us at all!”
It’s a good thing because they were already booking up back in the fall.
“In October, the photographer told me that she already had 150 kids booked,” Bill says. And that makes them happy.
“We have a ball with children. We’ll get down on the ground with them. Of course, these days we need help getting back up,” says Bill.
One day, the pair (who have 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren), may move to Florida, but for now they are happy to stay put in Kokomo with their four cats (Butterball, Sweetie Pie, Tigger, and Fiona) and their 25-year-old Quaker parrot who blows kisses and hollers, “love you.”
Bill says the most difficult part about playing Santa is having the patience to wait for the next Christmas season to roll around.
“People have told us that we’re not charging enough, but it’s none of their business what we charge,” Bill says. “You can’t be in this for the money, and we’re not. We love being Santa and Mrs. Claus!”