A retired Madison firefighter who has played Santa Claus for 43 years made his last appearance Wednesday at American Family Children's Hospital. Dick Lindauer started playing Santa in 1967 when Fire Capt. Art Emerson retired from that role.
Lindauer began flying to the hospital through helicopter when Med Flight was introduced to UW Hospital in 1985. Since 2008, he has arrived on a sleigh propelled by a fire truck. "Oh, I've got so many memories, it's amazing!" said Lindauer.
Kaleigh-Ann Williams is five years old. This will be her fourth Christmas at American Family Children's Hospital. "We've seen him here each year for the past four years so he's going to be missed," said her mom, Kathryn Williams.
Lindauer knows what it's like to spend Christmas at Children's Hospital. His daughter died there in 1978 at age 15 after a four-year battle with leukemia. He says her passing has given him the motivation to perform his duties as Santa every holiday season.
"You see a child that might not make it 'til next year. One year, I completed and they called me over and said, 'Santa, would you come over? We want to talk to you. Six of the children you just visited a couple weeks ago have passed,'" said Lindauer.
That's why this is so significant to Lindauer, why he's continued to do it all these years. And it means the world to the kids and their families.
"Before we came down here she was laying in her bed crying for how bad her tummy hurt, and then I said 'Let's go see Santa,'" said Williams. 'It took us a little while to get her out of bed but once we got down here she was cheery. It gives her a minute to forget about what she's going through."
"If I could get one smile out of a child at Children's, it's worth it," said Lindauer.
Eventually, Lindauer's Santa suit will be sent to Superior, Wis. to be displayed at the Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame, where Lindauer was inducted in 2003 for his dedication to community service.
Madison firefighter Gary Schreiber will take over the responsibility of Santa next year.