Bits 'n' Pieces: That's President Santa yo you

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Here’s a little leftover holiday cheer.

At its monthly meeting on March 14, Rob Figley of Edgewood Park was elected President of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, the nation’s largest professional Saint Nick association.

“It’s a huge honor and a huge responsibility,” said Figley, who’s well-known to Clark County Santa fans. “Our membership is growing by leaps and bounds.”

How’d he get started on this road to Santa superstardom? Years ago, on the morning of his 40th birthday, Figley rose and sized himself up in the mirror — the big beard, the generous belly — and was shocked to realize how much he looked the part.

But rather than reach for the razor and a diet plan, Figley decided to go with it. He tested out his Santa skills at a local church bazaar and came through with flying reindeer — er, that is, colors.

“In essence, the clouds parted over my head and the angels came down and said, ‘You are Santa Claus,’” Figley said.

Our society seems to have an inordinate fondness for pudgy older men with long white beards, he said.

“I didn’t make those rules, but it’s wonderful for me,” Figley said.

There are 16 chapters and more than 850 members of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, which has a serious purpose: to host classes and seminars, to negotiate insurance policies and criminal background checks, and generally to maintain a professional standard for “the Santa Claus business,” Figley said.

“Let’s face it, we’re putting our hands on children. That’s a huge responsibility,” he said. To learn more, visit http://www.FORBSantas.org. The group is based in La Habra, Calif.

Mrs. Claus -- Diane, Figley’s wife -- was elected corresponding secretary for the group. “Mrs. Claus is a cancer survivor and I am very proud of her,” Figley said.-- Scott Hewitt

Columbian story helps old pals link up

photoGeorge White

A funny thing happened after Harry Newton, a Battle Ground resident, read a recent Columbian story about Vancouver resident George White, 74.

White grew up in a Mojave Desert town where many Western TV and movies were filmed back in the 1940s and 1950s. The March 11 story ran with one of White’s old photos from the town. It shows a man in a white hat standing in front of an old building called the “Likker Barn.”

Well, in a strange twist, Newton is actually the guy in the picture.

“The way it turned out -- Harry Newton -- he was the Boy Scout leader of our Mounted Boy Scout troop,” White said. “His neighbor called me and said ‘You know that fellow?’ I said, ‘I know him well.’ Then the neighbor said, ‘Well, he lives right next to me.’”

White said he was shocked and pleased to learn that his friend from so long ago had somehow ended up in Clark County, not far away, after all these years.

“It’s totally amazing,” White said. “I haven’t seen him in maybe 50 years.”

The two have talked on the phone and plan to get together soon and rehash old memories, White said.-- Sue Vorenberg

If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.