Toys for Tots and Dream Come True have been the most important events for Nick Hawkey in his role as Santa Claus, or rather as his helper who talks to people and takes their Christmas orders to be forwarded to the North Pole.

He's now in his 40th year spent this way and he looks forward to many more.

A wall in his house is filled with plaques honoring him for his work with those two organizations as well as Lions, the Marine Corps League and his efforts to have Route 248 renamed the POW-MIA Highway.

He said his kids, Dean and Karen, were young in 1971 when he thought it would be neat to take them out on his motorcycle as he played the role of Santa.

For 15 years he was the person who answered the phone when Channel 13 held the "Talk to Santa" program.

Three years ago he became a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and in a five-hour period last year he took in the most money for the season. He enjoys the people and gives them a heartfelt "thank you." Hawkey fondly recalls a woman who probably could not afford to donate, but who said she was sorry she did not have any spare money with her she would be back. "And she was," Hawkey says, with a note of amazement in his voice.

He has had an interest in the Salvation Army since he was young. During World War II they were located down the street from his home, and his mother helped out.

It was in 1977 when he first heard about Toys for Tots, the program for which he now raises money and gathers toys. Then, putting on his Santa outfit, he helps deliver them. He said he has gotten to know many of the people and enjoys talking to them.

He made a sleigh to pull behind his motorcycle and used it in the parade at the Whitehall Mall. He drove it 750 miles in one Christmas season. It had seven strings of lights and even special effects. A hippopotamus breathing with the help of a vaporizer rode in the sleigh. It played music and had a reindeer that rotated.

One day the Palmer Township police stopped him because he did not have his sleigh licensed.

Four times he rode his motorcycle and took the sleigh in the Mummers' Parade in Philadelphia, with the help of a friend. They placed 10th one year. The prize money was $185. One year he said the wind-chill was 40 or 50 degrees below zero, not exactly motorcycle weather, when they traveled to Philly.

But he never was Santa for his own monetary benefit. All donations are turned over to Toys for Tots and Dream Come True.

His granddaughter Bryana was diagnosed with a serious disease the year after Dream Come True was formed. They were at the Christmas City Fair that year under the bridge in Bethlehem where Chriskindlemarkt is held.

She was taken to the Mayo Clinic Heart Hospital and Hawkey went as Santa. He said that day he cried. He says all hospitals are difficult to visit due to the emotions they stir, but he visits the local ones anyway. He has seen thousands of terminally ill children.

As for little Bryana, her dream was to go to Disney World but she died before her dream could come true. However, she did get to participate in a Twin County Cable television show.

Hawkey also accompanies the scouts on Scout Day at the America on Wheels Museum. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies are all there for the occasion.

When Boy Scout Troop 98 visits Pleasant Valley Manor to sing Christmas carols for the residents, Santa accompanies them.

He has also visited Mrs. Bush's, Mahoning Valley, The Summit and other nursing homes. "They all seem to be very caring places," Hawkey said.

He brings out two pictures that he says are his favorites. In one he exchanges "I love you" in sign language with a little girl. "The only sign language I know."

The second one depicts a family that personifies the word diversity.

He delivered a bike to Tannersville and a boy stood on the porch and asked who the bike was for. The youngster was elated when he found it was for him. A biker was sitting on the stairway looking disappointed.

"You didn't get anything for Christmas," asked Hawkey. The reply was a "Yah."

He was given a Harley HOG animal and was as elated as the boy with his bike.

Hawkey's wife Millie makes his Santa suits. He has worn out three of them and is on his fourth.

As Santa, Hawkey doesn't overlook any particular detail. He took an ordinary chair and made it into a beautiful Santa throne with a screen behind it so he can set up anyplace. It is high backed and decorated with gold leaf. This year the chair was adorned with red slippers.