Bright Spots: Santa has a home in Gordo

 

WVUA 23 has interviewed some pretty impressive people: professional athletes, politicians, music stars. But none shine brighter — especially this time of year — than the big guy in the red suit.

There are a few things that put the small town of Gordo on the map: Greenwave football, the annual Mule Day and Chicken Fest and a man by the name of Kenneth Junkin.

So who is Kenneth Junkin?

“He’s Santa!” said Gordo resident Chelsey Sanders. “He is full of life. He is our hometown celebrity.”

Junkin wears many hats around his hometown. One of those just happens to be red and fluffy, and he’s been putting that one on for 50 years.

“I never in my entire life even thought about doing Santa,” Junkin said. “I was kind of scared of Santa Claus growing up, but I grew out of it.”

It was 1972 when Junkin was first asked to put on the big red suit. He was 24 at the time.

“I looked in the mirror and I looked more like one of the seven dwarfs than I did Santa Claus, so I ran to Tuscaloosa from Gordo to Sears and Roebuck and bought their best Santa suit. So that’s how I got started,” Junkin said.

He hasn’t stopped since. Junkin estimates he’s suited up as Santa nearly 2,000 times and had more than 40,000 children sit on his lap. While most of those were on the nice list, maybe a few were borderline naughty, he said with a laugh.

“(One child) looked at me funny with a big ole Tootsie Roll,” he said. “He had it all over him and said, ‘you know, you sure are a dumb looking Santa Claus.’ He jumped up in my lap and I said ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ And he looked me right in the eyes and said ‘a BB gun. I asked you for one last year and you didn’t bring me one.’ ”

Other children were even more specific regarding their Christmas list.

“I had more than one jump in my lap and tell me what they want in the catalog,” Junkin said. “I had one little guy tell me ‘no substitutes.’ ”

Today, Junkin is 74 and has seen multiple generations of families like Chelsea Sanders and her son Rush.

“Fifty years,” Sanders said. “I haven’t been alive for 50 years so I can’t imagine committing to something for 50 years. He is just incredible. The perfect soul. He embodies Santa.”

Like the real Santa Claus, Junkin has done a lot of traveling. But he’s never wanted to call anywhere else but Gordo home.

“I always wanted to come back to Gordo because it’s quiet,” Junkin said. “You have friends and neighbors who will help you and I love this place.”

Gordo loves him right back.

Last week, WVUA 23’s Chelsea Barton hopped in Santa’s sleigh and scooted down to Gordo Elementary School, where a class of kindergartners had a special serenade of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” for their hometown Santa.

It’s a beautiful example of why Junkin’s been suiting up for half a century, he said.

“The children who are so excited and hug you and tell you they love you,” Junkin said. “That is pretty special. There is nowhere else you can get that from a child.”

Do you have a Bright Spots you’d like to share? You can submit your ideas right here.

Categories: Bright Spots, Featured, Local News