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Santa Claus helps veterans in Billings

Posted at 6:11 PM, Dec 13, 2021

BILLINGS - Hundreds lined up Sunday at the Adaptive Performance Center for a chance to see Santa Claus.

For many families, it's an annual tradition to get a picture with the man who wears the colorful Christmas shirt.

What makes this even more special is Jim Jensen decided to make his final appearance at the place where he works out with his fellow veterans.

"I've come to realize that my family is getting more and more extended," Jensen said about those taking pictures with Santa. "A lot of these people, that's just how I feel about them. They're family."

Santa has worked for decades in Billings visiting families at the hospital.

"I like to do the NICU and I love seeing them through the little ones," Jensen said.

And he even retired once before from WestPark Plaza.

"My wife died of ALS in 2013," he said. "2011 was the last year I was in the malls."

Many families take annual pictures with Santa Claus.

"It's a really important Christmas tradition for us because we have all those memories on film with this guy for 31 years," said Jeff Barth.

Many families welcomed Santa Claus to the Adaptive Performance Center on Saturday, Dec. 4.

"My son when he was little sat on his lap so I have pictures of my son who's now an adult with a child of his own," said Karen Pearson, APC co-founder. "And so now my grandson has sat on Santa's lap too."

Pearson and Mitch Crouse help veterans at the gym where Santa works out.

"He is very inspirational to people here because he just fights through," Pearson said.

"They're watching him," said Crouse, APC co-founder. "'Well, if he can do it, we can do it.' So it's a great attitude."

For Jensen, the Santa Claus fundraiser helps his fellow veterans at the gym.

"When you see that statistic about the amount of suicide that goes on from veterans coming back, totally unacceptable," Jensen said. "So anything that I can contribute to help prevent some of that, it's my honor. It's my honor."

"Actually he is Santa Claus," said Richard Shepherd, a veteran who works at APC. "He's the only Santa Claus Billings has ever known. Only Santa Claus Billings will ever know."

"He's the quintessential Santa," Crouse said.

"Santa or not, he has the biggest heart," Pearson said.

"Right now, he's in Santa Claus Heaven over there," said Barth. "He's just having the time of his life."

"I like being part of some of the traditions that these families have had over the years," Jensen said.