By Elsie Walker
Santa Claus is a busy man all year round, but especially at Christmastime. He can’t be everywhere at the same time, so he enlists some lookalikes to help him.
One such person can be found in Netcong borough; actually, he’s the mayor. Mayor Joe Nametko, also known as “Santa Joe,” is a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (IBRBS) and is a student of the The Santa Claus Conservatory. This time of year, he is very busy being Santa at both paying venues and volunteer offerings.
Nametko will tell you he’s “465 years old in Santa years, 65 in daily life.” Although he has only officially been Santa’s stand-in for two years, Nametko’s first time in the red suit was many years ago when, as a sports stringer for a newspaper, he had to appear in a parade as Santa. Also, over the years, people would look at him and comment on how he’d make a good Santa. Thus, being Santa was always something that was in the back of Nametko’s mind, but it was not until he retired from his position at a Fortune 100 company that he was free to grow his beard and be Santa.
Once he decided to become Santa, Nametko took all the steps needed to be the best Santa he could be. He grew his white beard long; he took “Santa lessons” and was federally background checked and got liability insurance. He joined the IBRBS for all those Santas with real white beards.
When asked what you learn in Santa school, Nametko noted that it is a number of things including “how to answer 101 questions.” He said the training is important, especially when faced with the tough questions kids ask like, “my pet just died; can you bring him back to life?” He’s had such a question posed to him and explained, “No, Santa can only make toys, not bring things to life; but, we can pray together for your pet.” Nametko said it is important to be prepared with the right answer to such questions.
In addition to doing paying “gigs,” Nametko does pro bono work as an outreach to the community. His list includes the Netcong-Stanhope Rotary, Netcong Fire Department, Morris County Habitat for Humanity, Netcong Community Partnership (NCP), Marne’s Toy for Tots, St Clare’s Hospital-Denville, St. Clare’s Hospital-Dover and St. Barnabas Hospital-Livingston.
Nametko shared that being Santa is not just a Christmas time thing. He’s appeared as Santa for Christmas in July events and appeared as Santa at September’s Netcong Day. In addition, even when he’s just out and about as himself, children still recognize that man with the white beard.
“Kids, whether I’m in the suit or not, will run up and hug me,” Nametko shared. “Even adults want to take a selfie with me.”
Nametko said that when any “Santa” puts on the suit, “you take on the persona.” He’ll also tell you, that he’s been a Santa at heart all his life.
Santa Joe can be contacted about appearances at firstname.lastname@example.org or for booking 2017 appearances at: www.gigsalad.co/santa_joe_netcong.