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The Rose

William Phelps, 67, Portrayed Santa


By Rhonda Gentle
The Ledger
rhonda.gentle@theledger.com

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 Stella."

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 said.

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.

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