Let me warn you – this column is rated PG13. It’s not risqué; it’s just not appropriate for the youngest Farragut Insider fans. I’m writing about Santa Bob, who you might recognize from his off-season gig at Weigel’s on Campbell Station Road.
Santa Bob Higginbotham is a fixture at Farragut’s Celebrate the Season, which is Thursday, Dec. 2. He’s not the fattest Santa, nor does he (naturally) have a white, flowing beard. But he has things that are more important if you’re going to pose for pictures with children, many of them screaming like they’re on fire: patience and a great sense of humor.
Since many of you have collected pictures of Bob (with your children) through the years, I thought you might enjoy knowing him better. There’s a lot to appreciate.
He was born in Nitro, West Va. The town was built to supply gunpowder during World War I, but since it was completed just prior to the end of the war, it had to find another purpose. After graduating from high school, Bob started (and quit) college before he was drafted in 1967. He served in the Army for a year before receiving orders for Vietnam.
Because he showed an aptitude for mechanics, Bob was trained to repair helicopters, and he eventually became crew chief on a “Huey” helicopter. He also learned to fly. After he’d served his time in Vietnam, he wanted to go to Germany, but when he learned the assignment was longer than his time left, he opted to go back to Vietnam. He survived two helicopter crashes during his service.
Bob went back to Nitro and started a career at a chemical plant. He retired after 32 years. Eventually, he decided to join his parents and sister in East Tennessee. It wasn’t his idea to move, he says, but the idea of his wife, Arleen Higginbotham. (Arleen works for the Farragut Parks & Rec department, so I understand that it’s just easier to do what Arleen wants.)
The Higginbothams moved to the Farragut area in 2005, where Bob enjoyed his retirement until Arleen told him to go back to work. That’s when he took the job at Weigel’s, which he really likes.
“I just enjoy getting up in the morning and seeing the people come in,” he says.
It was also Arleen who “suggested” he become Santa Bob. He didn’t mind a bit, given that he and Arleen dressed as Santa and an elf to deliver Christmas gifts for their church in West Virginia.
In case you can’t tell, Bob is a pretty laid-back guy. He’s happy to pitch in for the Parks & Rec department whenever he’s needed, and you may have seen him manning the grill at the Bob Watt Youth Fishing Rodeo or taking tickets at the Shamrock Ball. But he especially enjoys putting on the red suit.
“The kids are great. They jump up on your lap and tell you the funniest things. They’re so sincere. They tell me things that bring tears to my eyes,” he says. “I enjoy doing it.”
Celebrate the Season is 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Farragut Community Center (11408 Municipal Center Drive). Santa photos are 4:30-6 p.m. The event is free.
Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.