South Gate’s Man in Red Has Been a Santa Nearly 20 Years--Now He’s Official

Now it’s official, and just in the nick of time. After nearly 20 years of playing the jolly man in the red suit around South Gate, William Lenkner, 76, has been chosen as the city’s official Santa Claus.

Today, Lenkner will ride on a float in the annual South Gate Christmas Parade along Tweedy Boulevard, filling the air with ho-ho-hos and waving to the children. His calendar is filled with several other assignments, including handing out candy canes at the South Gate police volunteers Christmas party and distributing gifts at the American Legion children’s party.

“I’m delighted that I get to do this. It is great fun,” said Lenkner, who has been bringing joy to people as a Santa since the early 1970s.

Lenkner said he started performing when his South Gate American Legion post needed a Santa. “I was fat. I had a tummy. So they chose me.” He has been in demand ever since, even though he has lost about 40 pounds to help control diabetes. The 5-foot-9 Santa weighs about 185 now, but says, “I don’t use a pillow.”


His wife, Ruby, who does a good job of hiding the cookies and other sweets from him, said Lenkner does not need any extra stuffing. “He still has a small tummy,” she said.

Both of them donned Santa suits and worked as a team until she suffered a heart attack in 1983. She sewed their first suits, and continues to make sure he looks his best. When his wig and beard began to show signs of wear recently, she replaced them.

And she always warns him not to kiss the girls wearing lipstick. “That stuff gets on the beard and it is the most difficult thing to get out,” said Ruby Lenkner, 82, a retired Sears telephone saleswoman. She confided, however, that a good soaking in Club soda will get rid of the cosmetic.

Lenkner said he also discovered through trial and error how to be a good Santa. “One of the things I found out is that you never say ‘Ho-Ho’ too loud. It scares the little kids.


“Everything must be kept positive. After all, this is supposed to be a time of joy,” said Lenkner, a retired warehouseman.

Lenkner became the city’s official Santa after Bill Smith, who had performed the duties for 16 years, recently packed up his red suit and black boots and moved to Waterloo, Iowa. Smith had recommended Lenkner.

Four former Long Beach City College students have been inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame. Graduates who have made outstanding contributions to the community or achieved fame in varied fields have been selected for the honor since 1972.

The latest inductees include Long Beach lawyer Sterling Clayton, Long Beach community leader Audrey Langslet, comedian Paul Rodriguez and Long Beach City Councilman Clarence Smith.


Clayton was a member of the college basketball team and was named the outstanding male graduate of 1949. A graduate of Stanford University, Clayton is a past president of the Long Beach Bar Assn.

Langslet, who graduated in 1948, is chairwoman of the city’s task force on the homeless. She was named Woman of the Year in 1989 for her civic involvement in Long Beach.

A comedian and actor, Rodriguez graduated in 1979. He has appeared in TV series and films. He also is active in charitable organizations.

Smith is a 1953 graduate. He was elected to the council in 1986. He is involved in several civic groups, including the Afro-American Youth Services Foundation and the Central Optimist Club.


* Lynn Komadian has been promoted to director of marketing and public relations for the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. Komadian joined the center in 1988 as a marketing manager. She is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in marketing and business administration.

* Judge Richard C. Cumming has been elected presiding judge of the Downey Municipal Court for 1991. Cumming will take over his duties in January from Judge Robert G. Drees. Cumming, 65, has been a judge at the court since 1980. Prior to his appointment as judge, he was a court commissioner.

* Erik Bueno, a salesman with Century 21 Coastline Realty in Long Beach, has been inducted into the Century 21 Masters’ Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame status is given to salesmen who are tops in sales in their area for five consecutive years.

* The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees has appointed Blanche Brewster to a three-year term on the college’s Personnel Commission. Brewster replaces William T.J. Harris, who retired from the three-member board. Brewster has taught part time at the college since retiring from the Long Beach Unified School District in 1983. She worked for the district for 34 years as a teacher and administrator.