Community mourns loss of resident Santa

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Al Van Beenen was known as Canyon Lake’s resident Santa. He played Santa for the past 30 years for Canyon Lake’s Breakfast with Santa, an annual event hosted by the Ski Club. In recent years, Al also played Santa for the city’s annual Tree Lighting. Photo by Donna Ritchie

The Canyon Lake community is mourning the loss of its resident Santa Claus, Al Van Beenen. Al, 83, passed away due to medical complications on Saturday, June 15, at 4:02 a.m. at University California, Irvine.

A resident of Canyon Lake since 1975, Al was a beloved member of the community. For the past 30 years, Al played Santa at Breakfast with Santa, an annual event sponsored by the Ski Club. In recent years, Al also played Santa at the city’s annual Tree Lighting event.

Al was named Canyon Lake’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2010. In 2011 and 2014, Al was the recipient of the Ski Club’s Ray Novak Perpetual Award. The award is presented to a member who is voted as the most actively valuable member during the year, both on and off the water, by other Ski Club members. In 2017, he was honored as the grand marshal of Canyon Lake’s Fiesta Day parade.

Al was Canyon Lake’s oldest barefoot skier and was very well known amongst the water sport enthusiasts in Canyon Lake. He was a member of the Ski Club for two decades, serving 10 of those years as president of the club.

Al was an essential part of developing water sports in Canyon Lake and taught many skiers the basics of skiing on the lake.

Throughout his retirement years, Al participated in ski tournaments throughout the United States, where he often won in his age division and set course records.

At the age of 75, Al participated in the water ski tournament at Warman Lake in Washington, where he holds the slalom water ski record for his age division.

In 2017, Al, at the age of 80, skied barefoot in Canyon Lake’s annual Polar Bear Day.

When Al wasn’t skiing or competing in tournaments, he was teaching skiing and safety, pulling skiers with his boat or helping to organize ski events.

Al was a dear friend of The Friday Flyer where he worked for more than 18 years. “Almost two decades ago, Al walked in the doors of The Friday Flyer to place a classified ad, I believe, and mentioned his graphics and printing background,” Chuck Golding, The Friday Flyer publisher, said.

“Hey, if you ever need extra help with layout, let me know. I’d love to help,” Al said. Al was hired immediately on a part-time basis and has been with the newspaper ever since.

“Al is one of the most generous and friendliest people I’ve ever met,” Chuck said. “He was a friend to everybody on our staff. He worked hard and sometimes crazy hours, but always did so with  a smile on his face and an upbeat attitude.”

“In my teenage years, I worked for The Perris Progress,” Chuck said. “For part of our layout, we used old lead-metal based type. The machine we used was a Linotype machine. I can’t tell you the dozens and dozens of conversations Al and I had talking about those old lead machines. It’s a different world now, of course, but I’ll really miss my connection to those old computer-less days. For Al to come from those ‘ancient’ times and be able to sit at our computers and electronically lay out our newspapers, is a true testament to the immense talent of this man.”

Al was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Rochester, New York. He had four children, one step-child, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Al and his first wife Nancy were married for 33 years. He met his second wife Pam thanks to Gretta and Chuck Marler, former residents of Canyon Lake, who had a friend at Riverside Medical Clinic with a hobby of arranging blind dates. Arrangements were made for Al and Pam to meet at Mimi’s Cafe in Riverside.

Since Al was already established in Canyon Lake and a member of the water skiing community, Pam adjusted rapidly and joined Al in his interest in the skiing families and their progress. They married on a Friday evening, but before leaving on their honeymoon, Al skied in a Canyon Lake water ski tournament.

While on their honeymoon at Del Coronado, Fred Willis conducted a filibuster at the Ski Club meeting and voted Al in as club president.

Al and Pamela were married for 23 years. She passed away in June 2017.

Al’s family invites the community to attend his service on July 27 at Canyon Lake Community Church. A reception will be held at the church following the service. The time will be determined at a later date. “He wanted a party,” said Al’s daughter Trina. “So we’re having a party.”

Al’s parting words on any occasion were, “God loves you and so do I.” His passing is a loss for the community and he will be deeply missed by many.

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Donna Ritchie