Being Santa is not a job, it's a calling. Meet the men behind the magic.

Doug Keesey and Rick Rosenthal are known in Arctic circles (and greater Atlanta) as Santa Doug and Santa Rick.

Rick and Doug are two of Georgia's most popular Santa Clauses, entertaining the young and young at heart at events across the city.

Santa Rick (left) and Santa Doug (right) working their Christmas magic. Photos courtesy of Santa Rick/(left) and William Graves Photography/Santa Doug (right), used with permission.


I went looking for the inside scoop on Santa Claus to discover how the "cookies are made" so to speak.

My conversations with these holly, jolly gentlemen revealed some surprising Santa secrets and tricks of the trade. It's easy to see why kids adore them so much. Here are seven surprising things I learned chatting with two of the men behind the magic:

1. Why become Santa? Holiday cheer is a helluva drug.

"It becomes a calling for a lot of people," Santa Rick says. "Most people don't choose to be Santa, Santa chooses them."

That's the case for Santa Rick, 64, who's been Santa for 47 years. He started out with a full black beard under his fake one, but now he relies on the real thing. He's a trained mediator and arbiter, a skill that comes in handy when kids get a case of the gimmes.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

As for Santa Doug, it's his second season as the Big Guy. He has a soft white beard and loves kids, so he thought he'd give Santa work a try when he retired from his video production business. A friend, who is also a Santa, said, "Why wait?" So, at just past 50 years old, Santa Doug was born.

What keeps them coming back? You don't find that kind of genuine happiness just anywhere.

"One of the things that really keeps me going is knowing that I'm helping families develop memories that will last for years to come, something that will really be special for them in the future," Santa Doug says. "That's not something you get to do every day. What a privilege to be in a position to be that kind of blessing to others!"

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

2. You don't know busy until you take a look at Santa's calendar.

There's more to being Santa Claus than long shifts at shopping malls. Santa Rick appears year-round as the man himself, helping out with birthday parties, special announcements, and potentially a spring wedding. There are two gigs he won't take though.

"I will deliver anything but divorce papers and termination papers," Santa Rick says. "I'm a Santa with a sense of humor, but it's gotta be in good taste."

Of course, the holiday season is their busiest time of year. Rick and Doug work parades, private parties, corporate gigs, home visits, fundraisers, schools, and hospitals. Santa Rick doubles as a Santa booking agent and routes nearly 100 local Santas to events across the metro area.

"I get pretty busy, honestly, I think 'Wow, the schedule is just going to be very difficult, and I don't know if I have the energy, and I'm tired and wish I could stay home,'" Santa Doug says. "But then I get out there and see that kid that is just awestruck by Santa walking in the door and you think, 'OK, that's why I'm here.'"

Santa Doug appears in a local parade. Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

3. There are schools to learn how to be Santa. But one of them is essentially Harvard.

Anyone can dress like Santa, but truly becoming Santa takes some practice. There are Santa Schools across the country that open their doors to teach people how to bring the big guy to life. Classes include how to dress, how to answer tough questions, how to set up a Santa business, and even how to make simple toys.

Santa Rick leading a class at Northern Lights Santa Academy. Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, is widely considered the premiere Santa school, boasting a traditional higher education application process and a waiting list.

After mentoring and teaching at Santa Schools, Santa Rick opened his own school, Northern Lights Santa Academy, which held their inaugural session this year.  While he's proud to teach the next generation of Clauses, he hopes they each bring their own unique style to their work.

"Does [attending Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School] make you a good Santa? No, it just means you got a good education," Santa Rick says. "What makes you the best is you. You have to figure out how to utilize the information ... to make you the best Santa you can be."

The Northern Lights Santa Academy is in session! Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

4. Santa Claus hears some seriously silly stuff, and sometimes even he can't keep it together.

Kids are nothing if not honest, so Santa Rick and Santa Doug have heard it all. One child who (definitely already had one at home) asked for a toilet this year. Another hoped the baby his mother was carrying was a boy, and not a girl, prompting surprised faces from everyone in the room who didn't know his mother was expecting.

"You really do laugh, and it shuts you down, you're just laughing so hard," Santa Rick says. "You just get told these hysterical stories."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

5. But Santa is also a kind, loving ear in tough and tender moments too.  

For many kids and their families, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year. Santa Rick and Santa Doug have both heard some emotional requests from kids and the young at heart. Some wish for peace on Earth. Others ask for a relative in the hospital to get well. A mother had a teary encounter with Santa Rick while her son was deployed. And last year, a child asked Santa Doug to help get his parents back together.

"There's not much you can say, as Santa, to things like that," Santa Doug says. "All I could do was say, 'Santa understands. I know how you feel and I'm very sorry, but Santa loves you ... and it will be all right.' I think he just kinda wanted Santa to hear and understand."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

6. Santa would dominate an improv class, as the big guy has to be quick on his feet.

When you're working with kids, you have to stay ready. That's why Santa has an answer for everything. Even if a child asks for one thing, Santa knows better than to make any promises. Instead, Santa Rick usually tells the kids: "I'm gonna talk to the elves about that ... but did you know the elves are very busy? They make the presents and put them in a box and then they wrap it and sometimes they forget what's in there. You might end up with a pogo stick."

What happens if Santa Rick and his Santa buddies go out for lunch and a child sees a half-dozen Santas in one place? Don't worry, they've thought of that too. "We say it's a Claus family reunion," he says with a big laugh, clearly nailing the whole, "bowlful of jelly" business.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

7. Santa is about more than presents. He's all about hope.

For kids of all ages, Santa is more than a toymaker, gift-giver, or elf-in-chief. He's magic personified. He's a jolly old reminder  to never stop believing in the impossible.

"What Santa really does is he inspires hope," Santa Rick says. "We have to have hope to go on and that's really what Santa is. He's a toymaker, but he gives people hope and belief in the best of the best."

After this year, we could all use a little magic. Between international conflict, a tiring election, and Santa's own home melting away, there's a lot to be scared or worried about. But this is the season to hope, dream, and plan. To look ahead to the future with optimism and hope, even in the face of doubt.

No matter your age, background, or faith tradition, it feels good to believe in the impossible. After all, hope is the one thing Santa always delivers.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

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The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."