George W. Barenz, a retired postal worker who for years gladdened the hearts of Harford County children at Christmastime with his portrayal of Santa Claus, died of pneumonia Sept. 28 at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. He was 86.
Mr. Barenz was born and raised in Chicago, where he graduated from public schools. During World War II, he served in ground support with the Army Air Corps.
After the war, Mr. Barenz moved to Baltimore and joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1947. He worked as a letter carrier in Parkville for more than 30 years until retiring in the 1980s.
In retirement, Mr. Barenz launched a second career as a bus driver for Harford County public schools and later at John Carroll School in Bel Air, where he drove students to sporting events and on field trips.
After his daughter, Barbara Anne Barenz, was killed in an automobile accident in 1972, Mr. Barenz and his wife became active volunteers at John Carroll. They were honored for their voluntarism by WJZ-TV and the Maryland State Department of Education in 1985.
In 1996, they were presented the Archdiocesan Medal of Honor by Baltimore Bishop William C. Newman.
Mr. Barenz enjoyed dressing up as Santa Claus and visiting sick children in hospitals and appearing at private Christmas parties. For years, he played Santa Claus at the Harford Mall.
"When he first took the Santa Claus job at the mall, George told them he didn't want to be paid. They said they had to pay him, so he donated the money to charity," said John Hieber, a longtime friend.
"He wouldn't take a break to eat lunch or even go to the bathroom. When asked about this, he'd say, 'These children have been waiting in line long enough,' " Mr. Hieber said. "He really loved children."
Mr. Barenz, a longtime resident of Bel Air, was married for 59 years to the former Regina "Miss Jean" Kotowski, who died in 2005.
Mr. Barenz was a communicant of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, where a funeral Mass was offered Friday.
Surviving are a sister, Mildred Prior of Chicago; and many nieces and nephews.