Remembering Don Vandel, also known as Kent’s Santa Claus

Lindsey Cook remembers as a little girl first meeting Don Vandel in the Kent restaurant owned by her parents. “Even when he was not dressed as Santa Claus, I called him Santa,” Cook said during a Tuesday phone interview. “He looked like Santa Claus.”

Don Vandel played Santa Claus for many years in Kent

Don Vandel played Santa Claus for many years in Kent

Lindsey Cook remembers as a little girl first meeting Don Vandel in the Kent restaurant owned by her parents.

“Even when he was not dressed as Santa Claus, I called him Santa,” Cook said during a Tuesday phone interview. “He looked like Santa Claus.”

Vandel, who was Santa to many children in the Kent area over the last 25 years, died May 30 at his Kent home at the age of 75. A graveside service for Vandel was June 6 at the Tahoma National Cemetery. He served in the U.S. Army.

Sid Cook, the father of Lindsey and owner of what was then Sid’s EZ Eatin’ Café in Kent, asked Vandel to play Santa for Sid Cook’s company Christmas party in 1985. Vandel was a regular customer at the restaurant and had a full beard that gave him the Santa look.

Lindsey Cook, now 28, was just 2 years old when she met Vandel. But she saw him often as her parents ran the restaurant for 16 years in Kent until closing it in 1995. The family also had restaurants in Auburn.

“He was a regular customer for many years,” Cook said. “He was a very good guy. He was Santa.”

Vandel served as Santa in Kent for two decades before giving up the duties in 2008. He was Santa in the annual Kent parade. He also became a regular customer at Maggie’s on Meeker restaurant in downtown Kent.

In a story about Vandel in the Kent Reporter in December 2008, Vandel said he had accepted both paid and volunteer jobs initially as Santa before he decided to do it for free. He often gave away coloring books and even bicycles to the children.

Vandel was born May 19, 1936 to Julius and Helen Vandel in Alliance, Neb. He moved to Kent in 1964 from Denver, Colo., after he was offered a job with Boeing as a machinist. He worked 30 years at Boeing before he retired.

He actively raised funds and donations for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years Carole Vandel, his children, Gregg Vandel and Donna (Vandel) Lantz, grandchildren Katrina, Kayla, Krista Sue, Amanda and Cassandra, and great grandchildren Ethan and Jayden. He is also survived by nephew and niece Joe and Joanne and sister-in-law Sharon of Denver.

Contributions in honor of Vandel may be sent to Pediatric Interim Care Center, 328 4th Avenue South, Kent, WA 98032 or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at www.jdrf.org.


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