For the past decade, Ben Jetton has taken the seat of Santa at a hut in downtown Manteca off Union Road and West Yosemite Avenue, listening to the Christmas wishes of children and pets alike.
"I love to do it because of the community atmosphere," Jetton said during an interview in 2013. "I love the people. I love the children."
That love shown through being Santa can still be felt as people hang around the hut, though Jetton is no longer there.
"Ben’s wish, as well as ours, is to keep the hut open and keep it going," said Penni Jordan. "That would be everything to us, so that his legacy can keep going."
Thoughts on Jetton’s legacy becoming more prominent this past week after he entered hospice, a battle with cancer nearing a close.
Jordan, whose son Isaac has special needs and would visit Santa nearly every day, and Jennifer Munoz, say they will continue to honor the legacy of the man born to be Santa.
"I think he was born with the hat and the suit on and a twinkle in his eye," Munoz said. "He came out, instead of crying, he came out saying, 'Ho, ho, ho.'"
Thanks to Jetton’s insistence on a ramp for those with special needs, everyone can visit the hut, which is still open for families and pets to get their picture taken. His daughter Monique will be behind the camera as another Santa fills in. The community hopes that a nonprofit will take on the hut to continue the yearly tradition.
A YouCaring account has been set up to help Jetton's wife and daughter.