A gas-powered sled
By Bob Cunningham
Mike Hartman ’78 scored 114 goals and handed out 83 assists during his hockey career at Bowling Green State University.
These days, Hartman scores in a different way. Every holiday season, the former Falcon standout dresses up as Santa Claus and hands out candy canes to children and other passersby as he cruises around Farmington Hills, Mich., and other Detroit area towns on his Rudolph-red Harley-Davidson.
The Don Mills, Ontario, native has spread goodwill from the seat of his motorcycle for more than 30 years. And even though he turned 60 this year, it’s something he feels in his bones when winter arrives.
“As fall and winter approaches, you have a warmness in your heart,” Hartman said. “It rekindles the spirit in your youth for the time you skated outdoors. Maybe the Santa Claus thing is that I’m outside and spreading goodwill. What you give is what you get. And either way there’s a reward to your heart for that.”
He first took to the street as Santa in Newark, Ohio, his wife Georgia’s hometown.
“One of my projects was selling Christmas trees to raise money for the Jaycees,” Hartman said. “I thought it would be really cool if I could get out on my bike and deliver those trees if the families wanted to have Santa Claus deliver them.
“What I would do if someone had young kids, I’d pull them aside and say, ‘Hey, would you like Santa Claus to deliver the tree?’”
Then Hartman would show up as Santa on his motorcycle with a Christmas tree and get his picture taken with the kids.
His continued his tradition once he and Georgia, his Falcon Flame from BGSU, moved to Michigan. He got involved with the local chapter of the Harley Owners Group, playing Santa at charity events for the past 15 years. His motorcycle stays decorated year round because it’s “too much to take it all off the bike.” The license plate even reads “St. Nick.”
Hartman, who played college hockey from 1974-78, can rattle off the impressive records he still holds at BGSU, including most goals in a game (five) and power play goals (42).
But it’s his recollections as Santa Claus that stay near and dear to his heart. Like the many times kids have asked for a swimming pool when it’s two degrees outside. Or the time a little boy asked for a baby sister—after some hints from the boy’s mother, Hartman told him that his present would arrive in the spring. One time, after an officer witnessed Hartman’s charitable acts, patrol cars made sure Santa got to his next stop on time.
A few years ago, Hartman was asked to show up as Santa at a house. A man’s grandchildren thought they had it all figured out: Grandpa was Santa. So, when Hartman showed up on his “sleigh,” the family that had gathered at the house all got a kick out of the kids’ reaction.
A year later, Hartman, dressed as Santa, saw that same man at a gas station.
“I recognized his car because it’s an antique car and he saw me on the bike and he’s beeping his horn and I’ve got to go to the gas station to fill the sleigh anyway.”
While they are talking, a woman asked Hartman if she could take a picture of her daughter with Santa Claus.
“She opens the door to her van and she hands me a 9-year-old beautiful little girl who is paraplegic. I was like, ‘OK, ma’am, let me come over there and help you. I’ll sit her on the motorcycle and hold onto her and then get a picture.'"
Hartman said the Bowling Green community touched his heart in a similar fashion during his time at the University. Everyone, from hockey coaches and supporters to teachers and even people on the street, always made him feel at home. He said that always meant so much to him and his Canadian teammates because they couldn’t just “pop up to Toledo or Findlay” to see family.
“Many, many people cared for me, watched over me, fed me, and loved hockey for the game that it was,” said Hartman, not wanting to mention specific names in fear of leaving someone out. “The Canadian guys that came down there are as grateful today as they were then for the involvement of that town and how they treat their athletes."
Hartman, who has worked in transportation for more than 30 years, said he learned a lot of life lessons at BGSU.
“It’s applying yourself to do your best to bring the best out of people,” he said. “You don’t realize that when you’re a freshman or even a senior. You realize that much later on in life. The reward is seeing a smile on someone’s face."