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Police chief, Civil War enactor, Santa Claus

Jim DeGeorge of Peyton, Colorado, likes to assume different characters. For years, he has made history come alive as a Civil War re-enactor; and, each Christmas season, he dresses up as Santa Claus.DeGeorge has also worn a few other ìuniforms,î as a former police officer and volunteer firefighter. After he graduated from high school in Clinton, Wisconsin, in 1968, the United States Army drafted him and sent him to Vietnam. When his tour ended, DeGeorge settled in Amboy, Illinois, and became a police officer; eventually working his way up the ladder to chief of police. He took on the role of police chief for eight years, and then began working for the Illinois Bureau of Identification. For 25 years, DeGeorge also served his community as a volunteer firefighter.As a member of the Battery G 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, an original unit in the Civil War in the northern Illinois area, DeGeorge helped restore six original Civil War canons ó a couple of them are on display in museums; others have been used in movies and television. DeGeorge and several other members of the group were extras in ìGettysburg, Gods and Generals,î ìThe Blue and the Grayî and ìNorth and South.î After moving from Illinois to Colorado, DeGeorge joined the 79th New York Highlanders Volunteer Infantry Pipe Band ó the only kilted regiment in the Union Army.DeGeorge started his Santa Claus gig when he was just 18 years old. He fell into the role by accident when he went to pick his mom up from work at a local department store. The regular Santa didnít show, so the store asked DeGeorge to fill in, and he has been playing Santa since. ìYou have to do it because you enjoy it,î he said. ìAnd you have to be interested in what these kids have to say.îDeGeorge said he especially enjoys playing Santa at Falcon School District 49ís transportation Santaís Toy Express, started by R.J. Berry of the districtís transportation department about 15 years ago. Each year, the school district raises money to host the free event for underprivileged students. The kids go Christmas shopping for their families, and spend an afternoon wrapping gifts, doing crafts and eating cookies. Later in the day, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive at the event to hand out a few presents. DeGeorge has played the D 49 Santa for the last four years. ìIt is one of the best programs as Santa, which I have ever been involved with. It is so unique,î he said. ìIf I wasnít able to do Santa anywhere else, I would do this one as long as I can.îQ & A with Jim DeGeorgeNFH: If you were just starting out in life, would you stick with the same career path, or would you change it? If so, what profession would you pursue?DeGeorge: I would not be a police officer. Not in this day and age. I was an EMT-intermediate (emergency medical technician for the police force). Today, I would probably be an EMT-paramedic. Paramedics can actually administer drugs and do a lot more advanced medical procedures. NFH: Whatís the worst job you ever held? Why do you like what you do now?DeGeorge: I like what I do now because Iím retired. But the worst job I ever held was after I got out of the Army in 1976. I went to Texas to work in the oil fields, and that lasted three days. I didnít even wait around to get paid. I was working on a work-over rig, and it was this great big machine; and it pulled pipes up out of the well, re-cased the well and put the pipes back down. But five minutes after you got there, you were covered in crude oil.NFH: If you had to choose one food to eat every day for the rest of your life, what food would you choose?DeGeorge: My grandfatherís lasagna. I have tried many times to re-create it, but it just isnít the same. My grandfather DeGeorge came from Italy in the early 1900s. And back in his day, he would come home from the shop and he would stop at the market and buy meat, and stop and get his vegetables. His ingredients were fresh and natural. It was a big, big production. NFH: If you were throwing a dinner party, what three famous peoplewould you invite? DeGeorge: Ronald Reagan, John Wayne and Norman SchwarzkopfNFH: If you could change one law, what would it be?DeGeorge: I would create stiffer penalties for those who pass a stopped school bus. My wife drives a school bus and says it happens two or three times a day; just in D 49. Right now, violators receive a stern letter. In Illinois, they lose their license for 90 days even before appearing in court, plus a heavy fine.NFH: What is your greatest achievement? How has it shaped you? DeGeorge: My greatest achievement is having successful children who are doing the right thing. (DeGeorge has five children, 15 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. All of his children and some of his grandchildren are civil servants and/or have served or are serving in the military.) NFH: What do you like about Colorado? Peyton?DeGeorge: I love the mountains and the open spaces. I love the hunting. I like the rural feel (of Peyton). It is small enough, but I really enjoy it.

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