Joseph Brocato, who played Santa Claus for disabled kids, dies but legacy lives on

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Joe Brocato was known by a different name to thousands of kids over the past two decades: Santa Claus. While he died Nov. 29, his legacy will live on.

Every year since 1990, he and his wife, Frances Brocato, have held a Christmas party for children with disabilities. While they thought he would just play Santa for one year, the kids were so excited, it became an annual tradition.

The Brocatos eventually created a nonprofit organization, Friends of Special People, to help fund the annual celebration.

"It has probably been the most rewarding of anything we've ever done," Frances said. "Some of these children have outlived their parents, so this is sometimes the only party that they would attend."

Each child who attends receives their own goody bag full of sweets, toothbrushes, coloring books and more.

While Joe happily played the role of Santa for the past 21 years, this year he realized the time had come to figure out the future without him.

"For the last year at least, he has said ... 'I think that somebody has to come up and take over.' And everybody said 'Nobody's taking over, they can't take over your job, but we will help you with whatever we can,'" Frances said.

As the December party got closer, volunteers and family held out hope he'd play Santa once again.

"He has rallied through many things, and we thought this might be another one," Frances explained. "He knew he wanted to be at this party, and he tried very hard." 

While Joe passed away last week at the age of 79, Frances said she knows he'll be at the event in spirit.

"All of the volunteers have already decided ... they are ready to go and move forward and continue for as long as we all can," Frances said. "He will be greatly missed."

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