Originally Published: December 23, 2015 6 a.m.
For many in Dewey-Humboldt, Terry Nolan is best known as the town's three-term mayor.
For hundreds, even thousands, of children across two decades, Nolan is none other than the Jolly Old Elf, Santa Claus.
"He's the closest thing to the real Santa I've ever encountered," declared Chad Castigliano, the owner of Chronicker Photography who hired Nolan three years ago to be Santa Claus for his clients. "He's genuine."
The 72-year-old three-time mayor and Vietnam veteran has perfected his Santa role since he started imitating Ole Saint Nick as a treat for the families of local veterans and families of special needs children. In recent years, Nolan has donned his Santa costume for children attending district schools, as well as at a variety of local charity events.
Until he met Castigliano at a local Historical Society event, Nolan said he never considered becoming a commercial Santa.
Yet he proved a natural, said Castigliano, a professional photographer who got his start back in 1991 after taking a photography class at Prescott High School.
From newborns to young adolescents, Nolan has become the official Santa Claus for many local families; his face the one captured on Christmas cards reading aloud to a preschooler or photobombing with a recalcitrant toddler.
"For him, it's all about the kids," said Castigliano, noting on his final Saturday, Dec. 17 Nolan donated his proceeds to Castigliano.
Castigliano charges about $50 for an eight-to-10 photo session.
"I really enjoy it because kids are just the best thing in the world," said Nolan who begins growing his beard to become Santa in July or August every year. He and his wife have four adult children. "You can see the sparkle in their eyes."
Over the years, Nolan said he has been visited from families as far away as Phoenix who want him to pose with them as Santa. In town, too, Nolan has gained a sort of celebrity from his Christmas time role.
"People know I'm the mayor. They really get a kick out of it."
Nolan said his holidays are made brighter by his interactions with children, many he has come to know well over the years. His Santa shoots are not "assembly line" events but rather personal experiences, he and Castigliano said.
"I love it. It gives kids a little incentive, a memory ... A little magic can go a long way."
Castigliano hopes he can bring a little magic to his friend, a man he said not only inspires children's imagination but reaches out to the less fortunate in his own community, whether they need a handyman or someone to listen to their worries.
Castigliano didn't want to give away his plans, but hopes it will be a gift Santa cherishes for years to come.
"Terry's awesome. He's just a really good guy."