Community says goodbye to CL’s resident Santa Claus


The community gathered at Canyon Lake Community Church on Saturday to say their final goodbyes to Al “Santa” Van Beenen. Photo by Pat Van Dyke

The community came together to say goodbye to Al “Santa” Van Beenen during a memorial service held on Saturday at Canyon Lake Community Church.

Prior to moving to Canyon Lake, Al served as a volunteer working with the youth department at Eastside Christian Church for more than 20 years. He made Canyon Lake his permanent residence in 1975, after his retirement from Fullerton Community College.

In Canyon Lake, Al’s love for skiing grew as he trained and helped others train to compete in ski tournaments. He was an essential part of developing water sports in Canyon Lake and taught many skiers the basics of skiing on the lake. 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 Canyon Lake’s oldest barefoot skier and was well-known amongst the water sport enthusiasts in the community. He was a member of the Ski Club for two decades, serving 10 of those years as president of the club. 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.

Due to his tall stature, Al was known in the ski community as “Huge.” There was already a “Big Al” in the ski community, so people started fondly referring to him as “Huge Al.”

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.

For the past three decades, Al played Santa at Breakfast with Santa, an annual event sponsored by the Canyon Lake Ski Club. In recent years, Al also played Santa at the city’s annual Tree Lighting event.

Al was named Canyon Lake’s 2010 “Volunteer of the Year” and he was honored as the grand marshal of the 2017 Fiesta Day parade.

Al was a dear friend of The Friday Flyer where he worked for more than 18 years. “Al is one of the most generous and friendliest people I’ve ever met,” Chuck Golding, The Friday Flyer publisher, 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.”

Al was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Rochester, New York. He had four children, one step-child, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He was married to his first wife, Nancy, for 33 years and his second wife, Pamela, for 23 years. Pamela passed away in June 2017.

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