‘Awesome ride’ for Lander University’s Tommy Claus is ending
Tuesday, Nov 10, 2020
Tommy Tumblin
Lander University employee Tommy Tumblin, who created the Tommy Claus toy drive for children in Greenwood and throughout the Upstate, is hanging up his Santa hat after 20 years as a third-generation Santa. The massive holiday effort helped thousands of families over the years. Photo by Laura Brown

What! No Tommy Claus on the Lander University campus? No Tommy Claus to deliver Christmas gifts to children in Greenwood and beyond? Say it isn’t so!

Tommy Tumblin, who created the local “Tommy Claus” toy distribution 20 years ago from his carport, is ending the massive holiday event because of the serious illness of his father, Bud Tumblin, and the overwhelming amount of work that the toy drive has become.

“It is disappointing to make this decision,” said Tumblin, an employee at Lander University’s Physical Plant, “but this has become such a huge effort for my family. The death of my mother, Betty Tumblin, who took care of much of this, my father’s illness and the tremendous time involved for other members of my family, especially my sister-in-law Jenny Tumblin, make this impossible to continue.”

And, even a happy elf can feel the effects of time. The affable Tumblin, 56, said with a laugh, “I’m getting older, and it’s getting harder to do.”

While the large-scale production will end, Tumblin plans to continue helping people who need gifts, but on a much smaller scale. “We’ll still help people in need, just not in the same way that we did before,” he said.

A third-generation Santa Claus, Tumblin followed in the footsteps of an uncle and his grandfather, both of whom donned the famous red suit and hat to deliver toys to children. It was while he was listening to his father, a minister, deliver a sermon about serving others that Tumblin got the holiday bug himself. For a long time, he cut down Christmas trees on the family’s farm and gave them to people. Then, the idea for the toy distribution began.

“I started giving away toys here - and toys there,” Tumblin said. “Then my Dad said, ‘let’s just do this,’ and so we did.”

Thus, Tommy Claus became Tumblin’s alter ego, and the modest toy distribution grew, ultimately becoming too great for the family’s carport as Tumblin established a goal of giving each child three gifts and a bicycle at Christmas.

Joel Manley, owner of Joel’s Floor Covering, came to the rescue. The Greenwood business has served as the collection site and warehouse for all of the donated toys.

“We have been open to helping Tommy Claus in any way that we could,” said Manley. ”Tommy is a great guy, and I am grateful that we have people like him in our community.”

Helping other people is vital. “This is such a special time of the year, and it has been heartwarming to do what we could and help out,” Manley said. “But Tommy has been the heart of this effort, and he deserves the accolades.”

As Tommy Claus grew, Tumblin decided that he wanted Christmas at Lander, where the enthusiasm of students, staff and faculty was contagious. Soon chimney-shaped boxes, originally decorated in 2004 by the Lander Art Alliance, began appearing around campus before the holiday season, and the campus community, including the Bearcat mascot, looked forward to the annual toy drive.

“Lander’s administration, our Office of Student Affairs and individuals around campus have been generous, and their support means the world to me,” said Tumblin, who estimates that the campus and greater Greenwood community contributed as many as 1,000 toys and bicycles each year for children up to age 12.

Dr. Richard Cosentino, Lander University President, said the students, faculty and staff embraced Tommy Claus as an important holiday tradition.

“For many years, Mr. Tumblin brought great joy to the University through his Tommy Claus charity,” Cosentino said. “His kindness and generosity have spread throughout the community in ways that we will never fully know, and we are grateful to have been part of this tremendous effort.”

After toys were collected, the distribution began in early December for those being assisted by the toy drive. Each would be given appointments to visit Manley’s warehouse and receive gifts for their children. “We’ve helped so many people, literally thousands of children, too many to count. You cannot imagine the thankfulness of parents, but their smiles said it all.”

As he rattled off the names of businesses, community organizations and individuals who have assisted Tommy Claus, Tumblin said, “I want to thank the many people who have helped us. We couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

Tumblin has worked closely with the Salvation Army in Greenwood over the years to assist with gifts for those in need. Major Jason Hughes of the Salvation Army in Greenwood said Tumblin has provided a remarkable service.

“When somebody gives of themselves, in the way that Mr. Tumblin has done, they have made a difference in the world around them,” Hughes said. “Even though many people need assistance with food, shelter and necessities - toys are important. Toys are the symbol of hope and of joy. Without hope, we have a miserable existence.”

Those in need of gifts can apply for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, Hughes said, by visiting www.saangeltree.org and applying by Friday, Nov. 13. The Salvation Army served more than 600 families last year through its Angel Tree and expects that number to grow this year.

Tumblin is entering this year’s holiday season with much gratitude. “We are a blessed nation. We are a blessed community. I am part of that.”

As he talked about the photographs documenting his years as Tommy Claus and the many memories he’s made, Tumblin said, “It’s been an awesome ride. I hope that the spirit of Tommy Claus will continue.”

Journalist George Matthews Adams never knew Tumblin. But he had those like the Lander gift-giver in mind when he wrote, “Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide-open heart that thinks of others first.”