Mike McEvers was widely known for his natural white beard and his ability to amaze children with his Santa Claus persona.
Even without the Santa suit, children were drawn to the jolly man with the sparkling eyes and full white beard. Everywhere Mike McEvers went, little ones were eager to walk up to him and ask him if he was really Santa Claus — and he always played along, asking if they were being good and even checking the “list” he kept in his pocket.
Michael Thomas McEvers, a longtime resident of Ocoee and member of the Ocoee Lions Club, died Monday, July 5, 2021. He was 71.
Family was everything to Mike McEvers, said his daughter, Kaila Wiles.
“The best thing I can say is he just loved kids,” she said. “He loved his family.”
He introduced his three daughters to a menagerie of animals while they were growing up and taught them to appreciate nature. He worked in the pest control department with Orange County Public Schools, so it wasn’t uncommon for him to bring home raccoons, possums and even a skunk. Wiles remembers him taking her out on the lake at night to look for alligators.
He coached a daughter’s softball team, and he took his children and grandchildren to many of the Lions Club functions, where they helped with tasks such as changing targets and running the concession stand at the turkey shoots. His wife, Carolyn McEvers, even made a child-size yellow Lions vest, complete with club pins, for their children and grandchildren to wear at events.
Pops, as he was called by his family, liked to dine with his grandchildren at the counter at Carlo’s Diner, in Ocoee.
Before Mike McEvers was a family man, he served in the U.S. Navy, joining in his senior year at Lakeview High School, in Winter Garden. After graduating in 1969, he attended submarine school and served on the USS Spadefish in the Vietnam War.
Carolyn McEvers was living in Norfolk, Virginia, and working on the military base. One January night in 1972, she accompanied a friend to the docks to visit the friend’s boyfriend, and she was introduced to several people — including the man who would become her husband four months later.
HEART OF A LION
The McEverses lived in Orlando and North Carolina before settling permanently in Ocoee in 1986.
Mike McEvers was known for his passion for serving his community through the Ocoee Lions Club and other volunteer work.
He held every office in the Lions Club, and he participated in the Right to Sight and the Hearing boards. He earned recognition for perfect attendance and twice received the Melvin Jones Fellowship. He frequently mentored new members.
“Mom was telling me, she got his vest out and one of the (award) patches is faded and one is stained, but I guess it will show he was actually there and wore his vest,” Wiles said. “Anything they did, he volunteered and was in there. Selling peanuts, selling beer — whatever they wanted him to do.”
HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS
The biggest thrill for Mike McEvers was portraying Santa Claus in the community. Children were attracted to his naturally white beard and resemblance to Santa, and he always patiently answered the questions of those bold enough to approach him. For many years, he waved from his sled in the Ocoee Christmas Parade.
He also donned his red suit and went to Health Central Hospital on Christmas morning to visit patients and leave them a small present, usually a stuffed animal.
Mike McEvers was a member of the National Santa organization and greeted children at Bass Pro Shops in Florida and surrounding states for years. Wiles said he left for the Santa tour the day after Thanksgiving and didn’t return home until Christmas.
“I wonder how many children across the United States … have his picture?” Carolyn McEvers said. “It could be thousands. He loved it. … He was awesome at it. … He went for 10 or 15 years and didn’t shave his beard off, and he had the prettiest white hair. It was absolutely beautiful.
“When he was in the hospital, it was just us, and we’d been talking a little bit, as much as he could,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, I guess I won’t get to be Santa this year.’ And I said, ‘I guess not, but you’ll always be my Santa.’”
She has many memories of her husband as Santa Claus, and their home has a closet full of Santa costumes and T-shirts.
“He had two that had the Santa beard and the belt, and our grandsons had matching ones too,” she said. “When we were up in North Carolina visiting my family, the two grandsons were sitting on the porch and Mike was in the middle, and … they had on their little beards.”
His other interests included fishing, history, guns, the military and striking up conversations with people.
“I made a commitment, I made a vow to God in sickness and in health, till death do us part,” Carolyn McEvers said. “We loved each other. I loved him a lot.”
In addition to his wife of 49 years, McEvers is survived by his three daughters, Kaila McEvers Wiles (Lenny), Erin McEvers and Stacey Anne McEvers Willis; four grandchildren, Kelsey Willis, Luke Wiles, James “Bo” Willis and Teagan Willis; two sisters, Dollie Ricketts and Sandra Hagan; and several nieces and nephews.
The Ocoee Lions held a memorial service last Saturday. McEvers was cremated, and his ashes were to be laid to rest this week with full military honors at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.
Mike McEvers also was a member of the American Legion, although his heart was with the Lions, his family said.
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