William Phelps, 67, Portrayed Santa
By Rhonda Gentle
AUBURNDALE -- For years, Mr. William
Harold "Santa" Phelps made the faces of Polk
County children light up as he played the part of Santa
Claus, asking them what they wanted for Christmas and
giving them stuffed animals and candy canes.
The former maintenance worker at the Auburndale municipal
water treatment plant died of lung disease Monday (May 5,
2003) at home. He was 67.
"Everyone knew him as `Santa,' " his daughter,
Kathleen "Kathy" Ebrahim of Auburndale, said.
"People knew him all around Auburndale -- they would
see him in his Santa Claus outfit fishing at Lake
Born in Baltimore, Md., his love of fishing and warm
weather brought Phelps and his wife to Auburndale from
there 15 years ago.
"Coming here was his dream. The largest fish that he
ever caught was a 14-pound, 2ounce bass," Ebrahim
He worked for the city of Auburndale for more than 10
years and was only a few months away from retirement when
his health began to deteriorate.
Mr. Phelps loved children and became interested in
playing Santa Claus when the older that he got, the more
he looked the part.
He worked at International Market World in Auburndale
each year and made house calls to visit children.
"He would do Christmas morning and maybe take a
puppy that (the parents) had bought, or on Christmas Eve,
the children would wake up seeing him put the gifts under
the tree -- their faces lit up," Ebrahim said.
When asked what his happiest family moment was, he always
replied with the day that he married his wife.
He was a Navy veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Phelps is survived by
his wife of 38 years, Clara Phelps; sons, William
Terrance Phelps, Santa Barbara, Calif., Paul Phelps,
Winter Haven, and Douglas Phelps, Auburndale; daughters,
Vicki Garrett, Edgewood, Md., Linda Phelps, Santa
Barbara, Connie Witek, El Cajon, Calif., and Anne Walker,
Winter Haven; mother, Marie Sample Phelps, Ocala;
sisters, Bev Marsch, Ocala, and Gloria Eitel, Glen
Burnie, Md.; brothers, Donald Phelps, Arbutus, Md.,
Harold Phelps, Lake Alfred, and Wesley Phelps, Ocala; 10
grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Services at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell.