SANDESTIN — In an office twinkling with Christmas lights and garland, Tommy Usry tests his Skype.
His ability to communicate with children around the world is critical this time of year. Usry, widely known as Santa Tommy, takes his seasonal duties seriously.
“There’s nothing like being Santa,” he said. “Seeing the happiness and joy on the kids’ faces when I arrive, no matter what they are going through, makes doing all this worth it.”
In addition to making sure he is electronically prepared for the holiday rush, he has a few grooming matters to attend to.
For the past 10 years, Usry has transformed into Santa Tommy every November through what he calls “santafication.” It begins with the whitening of his salt-and-pepper beard and the pressing of his holiday attire, or his so-called “reds and greens.”
The Niceville man will appear across the Emerald Coast at everything from Christmas tree lightings to special events for foster children and tucking in children for a special Christmas service offered by Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
Usry, a graphic designer at Sandestin, says his office for Skyping is decorated year-round, but it is not until the
holidays that the lights are turned on, the Christmas music is played and the smell of cookies fills the air.
This year, he will perform all his normal holiday duties and more as he tackles his second year of Skyping for Sandestin every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Dec. 21.
Skype is a free service that connects people through web video. (Skype can be downloaded from http://beta.skype.com/en/.)
Last year, Santa Tommy reported from the North Pole and Skyped with thousands of people from Egypt and Libya to England and Germany.
This year, he says he has headed south a little early. He will report from North Pole South for his Skype time with anyone who requests a session with his location name, “SandestinResort.”
“I get asked this a lot, and what I tell people is that the funniest things a child asks for, for some reason, always starts with a ‘P’,” he said laughing. “I’ve had one child ask for a plow and another for a plate. Just a plate. The other ‘P’ was a little girl asking for a pony. I just told her that ‘Santa doesn’t deal with live animals.’ They’re hard to work with on the sleigh.”
Santa Tommy said he also got a Skype last year from a teenage boy in an embattled area of Mexico. All he asked was that Santa would think of him and his village during the holiday season.
“You’ve got to have the heart for this,” he said. “A kid can see a fake Santa from a mile away, and it’s not about having a real beard, but about being authentic on the inside.”
What started as a favor for his church has become a part of Usry. He said he looks forward to continuing his holiday tradition of visiting children and spreading happiness for as long as he can.
“There’s just something about Santa,” he said, smiling. “Santa is the epitome of good. No matter how bad a child’s life is, they see love, hope and joy when they see Santa.”