PAWTUCKET — Barbie and John Cena are two names that “Santa to the Stars” Brady White heard repeatedly Monday night as he spoke to children at The Times “Photos with Santa” event. The enduring fashion doll and merchandise related to live wrestling superstar John Cena topped holiday wish lists this year which also included requests for new and classic toys, the latest technological gizmos and a few real life pets.
Now in his third decade in the role of Santa to the Stars, White has heard much of this before. Yet, being a patient listener and making each child feel special are the qualities that keep many loyal Times readers coming back annually for the event, which benefits The Times “Merry Christmas Fund.”
Times staffer Denise Barry coordinated the “Photos with Santa” event, which was held at The Times office—the location of the first ever “Santa to the Stars” benefit appearance that took place 21 years ago. Pat Zacks of The Camera Werks, 766 Hope St., Providence, donated her time as the photographer. As usual, Santa was Pawtucket's own Brady White, who has earned international fame as the Santa to the Stars and volunteers his time each year for the fund that assist the Salvation Army of Pawtucket.
For the Lourenco family, formerly of Pawtucket and now living in Warwick, posing with Santa to the Stars is part of their holiday tradition. Misty Lourenco and her husband, Gil, brought their daughter Destiny to see White when the child was just seven months old.
Destiny is now 17 and will be heading off to college next year. Yet, she and her three brothers, Davin, 15, Jonathan, 11, and Jesse, 9, still showed up with their Christmas lists and their ready smiles for the 2012 family photo. At the top of each of their lists was a guinea pig for Destiny, a high-definition TV for Davin, a PlayStation 3 game system for Jonathan and an iPod Touch for Jesse.
Misty said she puts the entire photo collection on display in her home each Christmas season and has no intention of stopping. “Every year, I'm always hoping that he's going to do it again,” she said, of White's appearance. Destiny added that she plans to keep coming back for the photo and hopes to even be able to bring her own children some day. “Whenever that day comes,” she said, smiling.
The Pellands of Pawtucket are also believers in the Brady White magic. Tracie and Jerry Pelland first brought daughter Isabella, 7, and son, Jerry, 9, to see Santa to the Stars when Isabella was just a baby. “He's good,” said Tracie Pelland. “He really listens to the kids and takes his time with them.”
Ken Landry, of Pawtucket, noted that he and his wife, Sue, had brought their sons to see White every year and now son Keith was here with his own children: 8-year-old Keith Jr., and 4-month-old twins Ava and Brody.
He also brought along another grandson, Damian Montenegro for a family Polaroid moment.
Former City Councilor Mary Bray smiled as her niece, Caitlin Barry, 6, and nephew, Aidan Barry, 5, posed with White dressed in their holiday outfits. Caitlin said she had asked Santa to bring her a Furby and a Butterscotch Pony, and her brother had asked for a skeleton game and Magna Dots (the Magna Color 3D Magnetic Design Station). “This is the real one,” she said, nodding in White's direction.
Seven-year-old Olivia Cobery, for whom former Mayor James Doyle is “grampa,” said she intended to ask Santa for “a real kitten, my ears pierced and a sewing kit.” Brother Tucker, 5, said he wanted a LeapPad LeapFrog game system and sister Chloe, 3, was hoping for clothes and a case for her American Girl doll. “They're all excited to come and see Santa for the first time,” said their mother, Cristen Doyle Cobery, who was accompanied by her own mother, Joan Doyle.
Felines were also on the mind of six-year-old Paige Hardy, whose list included “a real, live boy kitty,” along with Magna Dots, a doll and cat toys. “I really want a kitty,” she added.
Dressed in a red holiday skirt and sweater, three-year-old Nadia Martins, of Cumberland, seemed a little shy as she waited in line for her first visit with the famous Santa.
Yet, she was sure about what she was going to ask him for. “A poodle!” she said with a smile, while her mom, Laura Martins, added, “A toy one, thank God.”
Jaliyah Fortes, 4, of Providence, waiting with her grandmother, Jeannette DeGrace, was also a little hesitant about the upcoming photo session. But she, too, had her mind made up about what she wanted this Christmas: “a bakery (an Easy Bake Oven, explained grandma), a Barbie doll, a train track and a train.”