By Jamie Leary
IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The community is coming together to help a man who has spent his life helping others. Bill Lee, known better as “Santa” Bill, is a community staple.
He is Santa Clause and runs a ranch in Idaho Springs where he cares for all kinds of animals including, of course, reindeer.
He has spent winters in Cherry Creek Shopping Center and made appearances at the Breckenridge tree lighting ceremony. Santa Bill travels the state in the summer too, participating in Colorado Heritage events.
When he’s not preparing for Christmas, his main summer event is Pack Burro racing. He provides the donkeys and even participates.
“I got to stay in shape if I’m gonna live forever! I’m a legend and tradition! But I do eat a big Thanksgiving meal. Children have an image of me,” said Santa Bill.
As magical as Santa Bill is, even he has bad days. Last Saturday, he was driving home from a Colorado Pack Burro Race with a stock trailer of 16 donkeys when the engine of his truck caught fire.
His priority was the donkeys. He flagged down anyone he saw to help move the trailer and no surprise, people jumped into action.
“I said ‘We got to get this trailer disconnected,’ and a guy jumped right up on the bed of the pickup and he’s throwing bails of hay and other things out of the way so we can unlock the chain hooks,” Bill said.
Two more people pulled over with a truck and a tow strap and were able to drag the trailer a safe distance away.
“Some fantastic people came,” said a grateful Santa. “That smoke. There was so much of that bad, black smoke I might of lost those burros to smoke inhalation.”
Santa Bill will try and repair the trailer, but his truck was totaled. It was an old work truck, and Santa only had liability insurance.
With his donkey’s safe, he’s trying to focus on Christmas. While his reindeer don’t need the trailer for their big Christmas flight, the truck and trailer are crucial to get them to and from winter events.
It will cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to replace the trailer alone.
For once, maybe Santa deserves a little present?
Those who know Santa Bill, believe so. They have set up a GoFundMe page to help him recoup his losses.
All Santa Bill cares about is making sure the kids are happy.
“I believe in spreading good will, but also stressing strong values which is what this Santa does,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “No children get off my lap just by asking for a present. They got to give me a hug or I talk to them about sharing their love and giving gifts to others… that’s what Christmas is all about.”
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.