Semper fi Santa

Dressed in St. Nick's suit, Marine has heard children's wishes for 26 years. The 69-year-old can support 300 pounds on each thigh.

December 24, 2010|By Sarah Peters,
  • Bob Torres has played Santa Claus at South Coast Plaza for nine years. He has been a mall Santa in Orange County for 26 years.
Bob Torres has played Santa Claus at South Coast Plaza… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — The Grinch doesn't stand a chance against this Santa Claus, a Harley-riding veteran.

Bob Torres, 69, who served in the Marines the 1960s and '70s, has been one of St. Nick's jolly red-cloaked helpers for 26 years. He has nine consecutive seasons, including this one, under his ample belt as one of South Coast Plaza's two Santas.

In all those years, Torres, whose twinkling eyes are surrounded by all-natural white brows and a full beard, has been privy to thousands of surprising secrets.

Just this week Torres helped Jonathan Nguyen propose to his college sweetheart — a moment that brought tears to Jenny Hoang's eyes (she told Santa that she'd been a very good girl this year) and cheers from a crowd of onlookers.

"It made me feel tremendously good to be a part of that," Torres said in an interview. "They'll remember that for the rest of their lives, and so will I. And of course, they have the photos to go along with it."


But not all moments are as filled with joy, Torres said.

Last year, a young boy sat on his lap and asked if Santa could help make his grandmother well again.

"I thought to myself, 'Jeez, how do I respond to that?'" Torres said. "I told him that things have a way of working themselves out."

While he wasn't quite able to explain it — perhaps it was the magic of the holiday season or his Catholic faith — Torres felt deep inside that what he told the boy was true.

A few months later, Torres ran into the same family at a charity function. When the mother caught sight of him, she came running in his direction.

"I thought she was going to attack me," Torres said with a chuckle. "But, she threw her arms around me and gave me a great big, bear hug."

The boy's grandmother had made it, but to this day, Torres can't explain what was behind that gut feeling telling him to talk to the boy.

That story was a one of a kind for Torres, he said.

All of the other requests he gets from children are usually for today's hottest electronic goods: XBOXs, iPhones and iPads.

Two decades ago, children had wanted dolls, wooden trucks and wind-up cars.

"Hey, if the parents can afford to buy that for them, all the more power to them," said Torres, who had grown up the son of a carpenter in Monterey. "But I can tell you that it's not happening in my household."

His humble upbringing is one of the reasons why he most loves to dress as Santa every year, he said.

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