This Frostproof Man Loves Playing Santa—Especially for Sheriff Grady Judd!
by James Coulter
Photos provided by Betty Shelton
You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, and I’m telling you why: because Mike Shelton is coming to town!
Yes, you heard that right! His name is Mike Shelton, but other people—especially young children–know him better as Santa Claus.
This 74-year-old Frostproof resident has been playing Jolly Old St. Nicholas at various Christmas events for many years. Even without his bright red suit, he looks exactly like Santa Claus. Many children even run up to him in the store to greet him and ask for pictures.
What inspired him to take up the red suit and persona of Old Kris Kringle? Only the satisfaction of little children, of course. He does not have any challenges playing the part or hard parts assuming the role. He doesn’t even have a greater reason for playing Santa other than that he loves it.
“I just like doing it,” Mike said. “There is no [other] reason for it. I’m just a crazy old man, and I like doing it. I get a lot of attention other than my wife. I just love doing it. There isn’t much else to it.”
Mike and his wife, Betty, lived in Indiana before moving to Frostproof to retire. Previously, he had worked at a Chevrolet body shop for 20 years and drove a truck for 23 years. Upon retirement, they moved to Florida and settled in Frostproof.
Mike did not start playing Santa Claus until coming to Florida.He did not even remember exactly how and when he first started. He claims it all began because people started referring to him as such, especially since he was a fresh new face.
“I just grew a beard and everyone started calling me Santa and it led to where I am right now,” he said. “It wasn’t real long ago. I started going to stores. People would start calling me Santa Claus. That is the way it started. It was simple. Everywhere I went, a lot of places I go in Frostproof, they don’t know my name is Mike, they think it is Santa Claus. I really enjoy it.”
Mike remains so committed to the part that he even has an entire room decorated year-round with holiday decorations. He even has his truck painted bright red with Christmas decals. The Florida heat may hamper him down sometimes, but being in the suit makes it feel like he’s flown in from the North Pole.
He grows out his white beard before December, dons his red coat, and then visits stores, resturaunts, and other places for meet and greet occasions. He plans on participating in the annual Frostproof Christmas Parade this year in his festive truck.
No matter where he goes, Mike never charges for his Santa appearances. Everything he does is free of charge. His wife, Misty, loves how he gets into the spirit. While she has never joined his Christmas charade by becoming Mrs. Claus, she loves seeing him interact with other people, especially young children.
“Everything he does, he does not charge,” she said. “He just does it. It is just for the enjoyment. We enjoy it, and we want other people to enjoy seeing Santa. I enjoy seeing how people respond to it.”
Perhaps his proudest moment was being able to dress up for his grandchildren and Sheriff Grady Judd. Both Mike and the Honorable Sheriff share grandchildren, as Mike’s daughter married Sheriff Judd’s son and had children together. One day, he was asked to dress up for them, and it was his favorite moment acting the part.
“I get a kick from being at Grady Judd’s house,” Mike said.“Because everybody, most people in Polk County love him to death. I really enjoy going over to Grady’s. His wife invited me over to play Santa Claus. So I really enjoy that.”
Even without his famous red coat, people still recognize him in public as Santa Claus. He can walk into Walmart in only a white shirt and shorts, and little children will run up to him to meet him and ask for pictures and autographs.
Mike wants to continue playing Santa Claus for as long as he can. Though he may be diabetic, and his weak legs require him to walk around with a cane, he plans on acting like Santa until “his legs give out on me.”
“It makes me feel important,” he said. “There is nothing hard about it. I just like doing it. I tell Betty to get into the car, and take off and go to places. There is not much of a challenge to it other than growing hair and growing a beard. And sweating to death in Polk County. I just love doing it…I love having fun with people. I have people coming up to me that I never saw in my life and they have a ball with it.”