When he was Santa Claus WNY man, 85, recovers pictures from past

Ed Roggerman, 85, of West New York, thought he had lost a part of his past forever. For over 30 years, he played Santa Claus for the Teamsters union and distributed gifts to orphaned and special needs children all over New Jersey. But the remnants of those glory days had been long lost.

That was until recently, when current union members discovered a cache of photos from the past.

Decades ago, Roggerman and 39 other union members had formed a subcommittee known as the Teamsters Kiddie Day Committee, which was specifically designed to raise funds for the state’s underprivileged children.

“We were about 40 members and visited all the [children’s] homes in the state,” said Roggerman. “We would even have guys that would dress up like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.”

Bringing cheer

Working alongside Roggerman were friends Tony Scolletti, who was president of the committee at the time, and Tony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who was president of Local 560.

“‘Tony Pro’ was great with kids and he started this group,” said Roggerman. “It started around 1950, and I was a member of the council, and since I used to love playing Santa Claus for the kids, I volunteered.”

He added, “We would raise money for these homes through raffles and dances. You couldn’t get a postage stamp off of Tony Scolletti if the money wasn’t going to one of these homes.”

The committee would travel throughout the state visiting homes and even occasionally hospitals.

“We would raise $160,000 to buy toys for these kids, who were always thrilled to see us,” said Roggerman. “There was even this one girl in a home in Totowa that I used to dance with every year.”

Roggerman became emotional.

“If a kid was very sick in the hospital, and wasn’t going to make it to Christmas,” said an emotional Roggerman. “I would get dressed as Santa and visit them at the hospital. That was a good committee with hard working people, and it was only for the kids.”

Ran against the mayor

Roggerman always tried to fight for the people and was advocate for his community. He was also involved in West New York’s political arena for many years, including running against former Mayor Anthony DeFino in 1979.

“Even though I lost, I received the highest independent vote anywhere that year,” said Roggerman, who even threw a big celebration after his defeat. “Everyone said, ‘Imagine what this guy would’ve done if had won.’ ”

Roggerman and his ‘Lieutenant’

However, it wasn’t just with his fellow committee members that Roggerman donned the Santa suit, but with his best friend and late wife of 59 years, whom he loving called “Lieutenant.”

“I used to call her Lieutenant because she was a Girl Scout troop leader,” said Roggerman.

“We had a home once in Pompton Lakes and there was a [children’s home] nearby, and a few days before Christmas, the Lieutenant asked me to take her to the home, and I always carried my Santa suit in the car in case I needed it,” said Roggerman. “She was there singing with the kids, and I asked if I could play Santa Claus for the kids, and they were so thrilled.”

Roggerman pulled out his bright red suit and asked every single child at the home what they wanted for Christmas.

“We marked down every boy and girl, and she and I went shopping as if they were our kids,” said Roggerman. “We wrapped up all the presents for about 30 kids and put each of their names on, and on Christmas Eve, instead of being with our daughter, we were at the home. Then when were done we went back to our family.”

An orphan too

“My mother died the day before Christmas when I was 9 years old and my father died six month later, so I was orphan before I was 10,” said Roggerman. “I had three older sisters and one brother. I was the baby of the family.”

Roggerman was lucky enough to be raised by his older siblings throughout his childhood, but always sympathized with orphaned children, especially when they had no one to turn to.

“Being an orphan myself, I know what that feels like,” said Roggerman.

Throughout his life, Roggerman tried to do all he could for underprivileged children, including operating a Kiddieland carnival for years in West New York.

Until recently, the only thing missing were the pictures of his Santa days, which had been lost over the years. Thankfully, the Teamsters Local 560 recently rediscovered an encased old newspaper clipping of one of the committee’s visits to some of the children’s homes, as well as pictures, and were able to return them to Roggerman.

“I was very happy to have my memories back,” said Roggerman.


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