November-December 2018 | SANTA BOB STECK




Delivering Goodwill in Rehoboth

Written By: Brian Shane | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

One evening, many Christmases ago, letter-carrier Bob Steck was driving home from his Pennsylvania postal route when he spotted a tall, skinny mailman going up and down steps dressed as Santa Claus.

“I knew the guy personally — he looked terrible,” Steck said. “Terrible Santa Claus. But I just thought it was fantastic he was doing this for the public. I said, ‘That’s really cool.’ So my wife went to Woolworths the day after Christmas and came home with a Santa suit for $50.” 

And thus began an annual holiday tradition for Steck, a mailman for 20 years on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, and his postal customers: One day each year, right before Christmas, he delivers their mail, dressed head-to-toe as Santa Claus.

“I do it for the people of the route,” he said. “They love it. It gets them jazzed up for Christmas week. They say, ‘Ring the doorbell; we want to get a picture.’ I always bring candy canes for the kids. If I can do it on a Saturday, that’s the best, because you see kids on the Boardwalk. The kids, they get a little confused seeing Santa delivering mail, and I just tell them, ‘I’m helping Santa Claus.’”

People on his route ask him why he doesn’t dress up for the whole week leading up to Christmas? But that would be tough, because it sure does get hot under that suit and beard, Steck said. Not to mention, it’s a much longer day than usual, because his dozens of customers all want to stop and talk to him or snap a photo. But he can only chat for about a minute before moving along the route to the next mailbox.

“You have to get your mail delivered and get back to the office,” he said, “because management’s still looking at your timesheet.”

He’s had many fulfilling moments over the years. Like when a truck pulls over, and the construction workers’ faces light up, asking, “Can we get a picture with you?” Or when a little kid comes out of Nicola Pizza and wraps around his leg, yelling out “Santa, Santa!” Or when that homebound senior citizen, who never sees anybody but the mailman anyway, catches Saint Nick coming to the front door and exclaims, “My goodness, this is my Christmas!”

“Every year, I think: Am I going to do it again?” Steck said. “And it’s Christmas week, and the wife says, ‘You gotta do it.’ So it makes everyone happy, and I’m happy, too.”

Not everyone gets it. Dogs that are used to seeing their mailman, when they see Santa Claus coming, they get very upset, Steck said. They don’t recognize the mailman, so they start barking. All they see is some strange old guy coming with a beard to
the door.

Steck, 59, who makes his home in Fenwick Island, says he’s pretty sure he’s in the minority of mailmen who bother to dress in a full Santa Claus costume during the holidays.

“The workforce, they look at me and say, ‘Bob’s different — that’s why he does it,’” Steck said. “Upper management in D.C., they wanted to know who I was and why I did it. I thought they were going to write me up and discipline me. They said, ‘No, we want to give you a write-up, because it’s awesome.’ It was nice that I got an ‘attaboy!’”

Bob and his family decided to make a permanent move to the beach from Pennsylvania in 1998. When he transferred here, he said nobody wanted the 13-mile walking route along the Boardwalk. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Give me that route!’ You see the ocean, sometimes you see the dolphins. I’ve had it now almost 18 years. So I know extended families, their kids, their grandkids. I still have people coming back every summer. They all know Bob the Mailman.”

Other delivery services, like FedEx or UPS, sure, they may put on a Santa hat at Christmastime, Steck said, but in his eyes, they don’t go the extra mile, like the men and women of the U.S. Postal Service. 

“We have surveys done a couple times a year,” he said, “and number one is, we’re all proud to work for the Postal Service. We serve not just by delivering the mail; we look out for the public. We see everything… we’re Santa Claus year-round.”

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