Cover photo for Russell William Kauffman's Obituary
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Russell William Kauffman

August 6, 1934 — July 17, 2023

Orlando, FL

Russell William Kauffman

 

Russell W Kauffman, retired Marine, volunteer for civic organizations, and a well known Santa Claus in the Orlando area, passed away on July 17 at the age of 88.  A Pennsylvania native, Russ was born August 6, 1934 to Robert and Pauline (Johnson) Kauffman in a small rural community near Allentown. He began his education in a one-room school house, and attended public schools until early 1952, when, in his junior year of high school, he enlisted in the Marines.  On leave after Boot Camp and infantry training, he met Jo Ann Newcomer, whose family had moved to his parents’ neighborhood from the city. Russ and Jo Ann began dating and were married July 19, 1953. Russ would spend the next 22 years in the Marines, and with Jo Ann and their three children, would move a dozen times, from east coast to west and back again. He served two tours in Vietnam and two more aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. But the highlight of his career was the 2-1/2 grueling years he spent as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina - an assignment he always regarded as a particular honor. He retired in 1974 with the rank of first sergeant and moved to Central Florida to be near his widowed mother. Never one to sit still, Russ took a job with Martin Marietta, earned an    A. S. degree from Bob Jones University, and took an active role in organizations such as the Marine Corps League and the USMC East Coast Drill Instructors Association. But what he enjoyed most was spending time with his family. He loved the visits from his children and grandchildren, who lived in New Jersey, Maryland and Florida, and he always looked forward to family reunions held every Labor Day in Pennsylvania. His life took an unexpected turn when a talent agent, noting his resemblance to Kenny Rogers, persuaded Russ to attend a charity function as a celebrity look-alike. He would eventually take on regular work in this way, portraying Rogers, Ernest Hemingway, and Jerry Garcia. It was a great job for a friendly and outgoing retiree, but the perfect job would come along in the early 90s, when Fashion Square Mall hired him for the role of Santa Claus.  His gregarious nature - along with an expanding waistline and a flowing white beard - made him ideal for the part, and before long he was hired for the same role at Walt Disney World. He had found his calling.  Russ was enormously popular as Santa, and it wasn’t long before he found himself working for Universal Orlando, who put his image on their billboards and in their commercials. His work with Universal gave him a large following, and to many of his fans he really was Santa Claus.  He loved bringing the joy and happiness of Christmas to children, but due to health issues he had to retire in 2010.  Russ was active until his final day - distributing refreshments at church, keeping in touch with his marine buddies, and playing his favorite role as patriarch of a growing family.  He spoke often of his beloved wife, Jo Ann, who preceded him in death three years earlier, and he joins her now, along with his parents and his sister, Betty Bortz. He leaves behind three children: Larry, of Orlando; Michael (Mary) of Owings, Maryland; and Kathy Hiracheta of Kissimmee. He is also survived by six grandchildren: Simon (Lisa) Hiracheta, Shannon (Aric) Johnson; Kyle, Robert, Emily, and Brian Kauffman; six great- grandchildren: Halle Galvez, Mason and Leila Johnson; Andrew, Audrey, and Hayden Hiracheta; and one great-great-grandchild, Elijah Galvez.  He also leaves a wealth of priceless memories for a thousand or more children, young and old, of Central Florida, who will never forget the kindly old Saint Nick with the long white beard and a heart of gold. 


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