Santa Claus is alive and well – and was seen all over the 44th annual Tangier Holly Run on Saturday. Organized by the “elves of Chesapeake Sport Pilot,” and sponsored by Chesapeake Sport Pilot, LLC – the trip delivers fresh greens and Christmas cheer to the villagers on remote Tangier Island, floating some 12 miles off the Mainland of VA, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake Sport Pilot shuts down flight operations for the entire day in order to handle this event.
51 planes were lined up for this year’s flight, but dense fog kept the Eastern Shore under a thick blanket, and planes dropped out one by one. After a 6 hour fog delay, only a few planes were left to join in this year’s run to Tangier.
In real life, Santa goes by “Schultzie,” and drives a cab in Ocean City. The license plate on his truck reads “OCSANTA,” and below, it says – “beer & chicks & pickups,” With a long white beard and hair, a soft touch and kindly eyes, kids know he’s the real deal. He’s a good listener, and even the little ones bend in to answer his questions.
He’s not in the best health these days, and he struggled some, to stay upright during the long wait that kept part of the annual holly run grounded at the Cambridge airport. But when he talks about kids and Santa Claus, his eyes shine deep.
Schultzie isn’t a rich man, but he pays for every single present out of his own pocket. Between the Tangier trip, and other Santa appearances, he spends thousands of dollars buying toys and dolls, kites and trucks, candy canes and crayons. He loads them up into gigantic red bags that require musclemen to move them around.
On the plane, his eyes were peeled for Tangier Island, where he’s been bringing cheer for over a dozen years. Kids jumped and waved, Santa was swept into a golf cart, and shuttled into town.
His “elf,” Tony Cucchinella, himself a senior citizen, pushed and pulled, lifted, carried and schlepped toys and bags and holly and boxes, and even helped Santa into his tall boots. Tony certainly demonstrated the meaning of Christmas on that foggy afternoon.
More faces of Santa were seen on the holly run as well – everywhere. Santa was certainly evident in the smile of Ed Nabb, Jr., whose father started the annual holly drop in 1968.
A fourth generation lawyer, who practiced in the same firm, in the same building, at the same desk as three previous generations in Cambridge, Nabb embodies the concept of Santa Claus.
For years, he organized the annual holly run using paper envelopes and stamps, and hours of phone calls. He’d organize the cutting and packing of holly with 4H groups, and would make certain that the dozens of pilots knew when and where to show for the run, many traveling from out of state.
Though he’s passed that work on to Helen Woods, who has modernized the coordination with technology, the look on Nabb’s face as he executed his father’s goodwill project was the look of Santa Claus himself. “See why we do it?” he asked, as the Tangier kids clamored over Schultzie.
Santa was present in the heart of pilots Luz Beattie and Mark Evans, of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, who spent hundreds of dollars filling the plane’s tank to shuttle holly to the island. He was present in the twinkling smile of Helen Woods who spent months organizing the run, and who wasn’t even able to make the trip after the fog delay.
Santa was present in the faces of the families on Tangier, who welcomed the visitors arriving by air, pounding the pavement of their small village, pointing cameras every which way. With dignity and pride, they patiently answered the questions they’ve heard a thousand times before, and welcomed the group with cookies and cheer.
And Santa was definitely present in the hearts of those who flew in those small planes over the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday, peering down into the slushy marshes, witnessing fish swirls and boat traffic from far above. The annual flight is a bold reminder of the beauty of the Chesapeake, so fragile, so special, and from above, the need to preserve and protect it is abundantly clear.