ISLE OF PALMS - On the Isle of Palms, it's a merry, merry day. Kids are squealing in the surf. Sunbathers sprawl out on their towels. Santa kicks back in his beach chair.
Yep, Beach Santa - decked out in the big white beard, red swimming trunks and red muscle shirt with a few candy canes draped from the neck hem.
And oh yeah, the old man is jolly, until he weaves around the other beach-goers to make his way down the shore with a litter grabber and bucket instead of sack of toys.
A few Sundays ago, Santa came away with 240 pieces, stuff like plastic shreds, drink lids with straws, plastic shovels, broken beer bottles, semi-crushed cans and cigarette butts - "cigarette butts galore," Howard Hogue of Moncks Corner said. "I pick up so many I don't even count them."
The candy canes are for the kids who chase after him, their parents in tow. If they ask, they get a lesson in recycling responsibility. Santa isn't out there just to work on his tan.
Hogue, 67, is a retired Maryland shop teacher who used to do Santa dress-up events. He relishes the resemblance and the attention. He'll tell the kids he's down here to bring back seashells for elves who have never seen them and that the reindeer are out in the marsh resting for the ride home.
"It's a nice thing, and it brings some happiness to people. We need more happiness," he said.
When Santa first showed up at the Isle of Palms County Park last summer, "you kind of wondered, what is he doing?" said Laura Edwards, an assistant park manager. But "people love him. The kids run up to him to get their pictures taken. He's just become a staple."
He's become enough of a staple that he got the tag, Beach Santa. And he just won a Community Pride award for his volunteer anti-litter efforts.
"He's like a one-man show on Isle of Palms," Marlo Ann Shedlock, of the Clemson University Extension-based pride beautification program, said.
At home, Hogue does nautical-themed craft work, model ships and wall designs, drawing on his shop skills. The beach thing came from doctor's orders to diet and exercise. The litter patrol came after the first day when he found himself stooping over repeatedly to pick trash out of the sand as he walked.
At least a few times per week he's at the park. Lately he's taken to documenting how much he collects each day on his one-mile patrol.
Since April, he's done more than 25 rounds and picked up more than 1,580 pieces. And along the way, he's tugged loose more than a few smiles.
When a Charleston Park and Recreation Commission swim instructor lost a fin in the water, Hogue found it down the beach the next day. He took it home, Christmas-wrapped it and presented it to her as an early gift - from Santa, Edwards said.
"He's just fantastic to see," she said.
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com
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