TALLMADGE – He brought smiles to children’s faces with a red suit, beard and ho, ho, ho.
Fellow workers dressed in holiday costumes from the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express and drove by the home of Michael "Santa Chappy" Chapman who portrayed jolly St. Nicholas for three years.
Chapman, 65, died peacefully at his Tallmadge home March 25 surrounded by his wife Joyce (Starcher) and his dog Mary.
"I’m overwhelmed," Joyce said as holiday-dressed passengers in decorated cars drove past the Tallmadge home to pay tribute. Although his death wasn’t related to COVID-19, family and friends are finding social distancing ways to remember loved ones.
He had a career with the United Parcel Service, working his way up from pre-loader to package car and then feeder truck driver, and after 38 years earned "25-Year Circle of Honor" status. He spent his retirement split between Ohio and Florida as a pontoon boat captain, official campfire builder and cross-country traveler. He was also an active member of Tallmadge United Methodist Church.
He was the recipient of an anonymous heart transplant donor in 2017 and began checking off items on his bucket list before he died of cancer.
Other Santas said goodbye along with helpers from the Polar Express April 19 as they gathered at the First Congregational Church of Tallmadge and created a parade to honor him.
"Our loss of Santa Chappy is a loss to the Brotherhood of Santas around the world," said Santa Mike and Susan Bistak of Independence. "We send off one of our own to the Great Workshop up North. His dedication over the last three years has left many memories in the heart of many little boys and girls."
Mike said he worked with Chapman last year, which was his first season of being Santa.
"Thank you for your kind heart in helping to spread the magic of Christmas," Mike said. "All of us at CVSR will continue to honor you and your dedication to the cause of spreading the Christmas Spirit through the Polar Express."
Santa Philip Howard from Macedonia remembers "Chappy" as a wonderful Santa on the Polar Express.
"He was most kind and thoughtful of others helping in any way he could," Howard said. "He will be missed by his brothers in Red and many unknown children."
Santa Larry and Maryann Kennedy said he will be missed by all.
"His sleigh is in the corral and the reindeer are at rest," Larry said. "You could tell how much he enjoyed putting a bell in their hands and a smile on the faces of all the children he met on the Polar Express."
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at email@example.com