Hall of Fame Santa was proud to serve at Christmas Park in Albion
ALBION – George Cond delighted in making children happy, spending the Christmas holiday season portraying Santa Claus.
“He really liked kids,” his son Fred Cond said. “He prided himself on being Santa Claus.”
The Holley resident in the mid-1950s enrolled in the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Albion. At the time, Cond was working three jobs, but he gave up two of the part-time positions to become Santa. (He quit his job as a cook at a restaurant and a position at Sears, but continued to work as a setup man for the punch press machines at Delco in Rochester.)
Cond was so good at portraying Santa that Charles Howard embraced Cond as the Santa at Christmas Park in Albion, Howard’s entertainment venue at Route 31 on Phipps Road. Christmas Park included a Santa School, toy shop, reindeer, train, motorized swans and other activities.
Howard is one of the most respected Santas in the world by the men who portray Santa today, even 50 years after Howard’s death. His Santa Claus School was moved from Albion after Howard died in 1966, but the school continues today in Midland, Mich., and still bears Howard’s name.
George Cond also is held in high regard by the Santa community. Next week, Cond will be inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame during the Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri.
“A student of Howard’s Santa Claus School, Cond assumed the role of Santa at Christmas Park in late 1950s and continued until the close of the park in 1966,” according to the Hall of Fame. “With Howard busy as the Executive Director and away on business during the Christmas Season, Cond handled most of the day-to-day Santa appearances throughout the park. He appeared in and around the Western New York State region on behalf of Christmas Park.”
Cond worked as the Santa at Christmas Park for about a decade and many of the photos from that time, showing kids with a Santa at Christmas Park, actually are more likely to show Cond as Santa than Howard. Fred can tell the photos of his father.
George Cond injured his right hand and two of his fingers seemed to be permanently “frozen” in a bent position. Many of the photos from Christmas Park show a Santa waving, with middle and ring fingers in that bent position. That’s a giveaway that Cond is wearing the red suit, not Howard.
Cond wasn’t the only family member to work for Howard at Christmas Park. Cond’s wife Elaine also worked there and Fred would help as an elf.
Fred, now 63, remembers when as a boy he was asked to bring lunch to Santa. Fred carried the meal over to Santa, who was on break. Fred discovered his father in the Santa suit without the beard and wig. It was the first time Fred realized his father portrayed Santa.
“My father told me that Santa can’t be there all the time,” Fred recalled at his home in Brockport. “He said, ‘I’m helping Santa out. I’m helping him take some of the orders.'”
When Howard died, the fate of Christmas Park was uncertain. George Cond wanted to buy it and keep it viable for years. But he was outbid by an out-of-town buyer. Christmas Park didn’t last long without Howard.
Fred Cond wishes Christmas Park could have continued.
“If it was still around today, it would be bigger than Darien,” Cond said. “Charlie Howard was a very clever man.”
After Christmas Park closed, Cond continued to portray Santa for local families, schools, churches, and other venues. He was the Santa for Kodak.
He was asked to follow Howard as the Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, but Cond declined out of respect for Howard.
“In his mind, Charles Howard was always Santa Claus,” Fred Cond said.
His father died in 1996. He was an active Santa until the late 1980s. The Santa Claus Hall of Fame induction is a pleasant surprise for his family, Fred Cond said.
Fred Cond continues the Santa legacy in the family. Fred first portrayed Santa as an 18-year-old at the former Ames in Albion. He continues to be Santa every Christmas season, mostly wearing the suit for friend and family.
His wife Debbie said Fred is changed every year when he brings out the Santa suit.
“Once he puts on that suit, the Christmas spirit invades him,” Debbie said.
Fred said Howard’s family has asked if he would be willing to give up the suit, but Cond said it is too important to him and the Cond family.
“There are very few things I have of my dad,” Fred said. “This was part of my life, growing up with my dad. He was a big part of Christmas Park. He was hand-picked by Charles Howard to play Santa, and my dad did it because of his love for the kids.”