Ozarks math professor leads double life as St. Nick

Release Date: 12/15/2011

Santa Claus is coming to town. And may be here already.

If you or your children have encountered the familiar jolly man with the red suit and white whiskers in Clarksville recently, it is possible it wasn't the real Santa, but rather U of O's Dr. Buddy Smith.

Smith, who has been a professor of mathematics at Ozarks since 1980, undergoes a remarkable seasonal transformation once a year, appearing as rosy-cheeked Kris Kringle in a wide variety of venues in the area. "It started five or six years ago," Smith said. "Some people I knew called me up out of the blue and asked if I had a Santa suit. I said no, and they asked if I'd be willing to fill in for Santa if they supplied the suit. So I did. Unfortunately, the suit didn't fit very well, and so after it was over, I went out and got my own suit."

As St. Nick, Smith has delighted children of all ages on the U of O campus - most recently at Ozarks' President and First Lady Dr. Rick and Sheree Niece's Christmas Open House - and throughout the community. He says he's appeared for various local organizations and in parades. This year he will be in the Lamar Christmas parade riding the fire engine.

He is also the body double for Santa Claus at Wal-Mart. "They've asked me to be their Santa the last two years," Smith said. "Children get their photos taken with Santa, and Wal-Mart gives away free copies of the photos. They do pay me, but the money is donated to the local Christmas Angel Project."

He said over 100 photos of Santa with the children have been taken at Wal-Mart during each of his recent appearances. "You never can tell how the kids will react," he said. "Sometimes they are happy to see me, but a lot of times they hang onto the cart and don't want to get out. Sometimes a peppermint candy cane helps."

He said often passersby do not realize the jolly man in the red suit sitting at the Christmas display back in the home and garden department isn't merely a manikin dressed as Santa. "They sure do jump when you say hi," he said.

Andrea Dankert, host of 'Get to Know' interviews Santa for the show.

Andrea Dankert, host of 'Get to Know' interviews Santa for the show.

Ozarks' Director of Public Relations, Larry Isch, said his granddaughter had always been terrified of Santa in person, until she met Dr. Smith. "She took to him immediately," said Isch. "It was the darnedest thing."

Andrea Dankert, a senior Marketing and Strategic Communications major from Broken Arrow, Okla., recently interviewed Smith as Santa for her KUOZ television segment Get to Know. "I try to interview interesting people, and Santa definitely fits the bill," Dankert said. "I asked him how he gets all the toys delivered around the world in one night, and he said it involved a lot of mathematical equations that would be over the head of the average person. The biggest surprise to me was finding out that U of O's Dean of Students Joe Hoing is on the naughty list! I never would have suspected."

Smith - that is to say, Santa Claus - will continue to appear at Wal-Mart through the holiday. Please call (479) 754-2046 for times.