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Santa Walt: The man behind the beard | 'My heart's the same'

A visit to the barbershop proved to be more emotional than any other for Santa Walt Queen. It was the first time he'd walk out without his iconic beard.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Walt Queen is used to receiving wish lists from thousands of kids every year, but today, he's the one making a request as he faces a battle of his own.

It was a Wednesday morning when he walked into the Beards and Beers barbershop in downtown Louisville, a place he's been to before, with people he's called friends for a very long time.

"45 years, I’ve had a beard," Queen said, walking into the shop. 

This was no ordinary visit.

"We’re taking it off today?" Melissa Gray, the owner and stylist said.

"We’ve got to. It’s coming out in clumps," Queen said.

Queen’s iconic Santa beard, once pristine and bright white, was now thinned and frail, much like the man looking back at him in the mirror.

"I’m glad I do get to see you but hate it’s under these circumstances," Gray said.

His decision was made weeks ago.

"It was pointless to try to keep something that was falling out," Queen said.

It's a part of his identity he never expected to lose, but the chemo had other plans.

"It had spread pretty much across my body," he said.

In early December, a biopsy detected a rare and terminal cancer called soft tissue sarcoma. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy, which wreaked havoc on his body, hospitalizing him before doctors chose to end the treatment and begin him on immunotherapy. Today, he's feeling better, but still weak. 

"My wife, she said a few days ago, a man looks at your beard, but God looks at your heart. My heart’s the same," Queen said.

Known as Santa Walt to so many of us, his heart’s filled with the Christmas spirit year-round, spreading smiles to thousands of believers across Kentuckiana.

Credit: Adwell Photography

We last sat down in 2015, with his wife Barbara at his side – sharing in the pain from one of their darkest days. It was August 10, 1989. Walt's two oldest daughters, Jill and Jackie, were headed home when a truck lost its load of junk cars on I-65 along Hospital Curve. Walt’s two girls and a Louisville nurse took a direct hit. They never made it home. A year later, he’d even forgive the man responsible for their deaths, asking he not be sent to prison - a request the judge granted.

Credit: The Courier-Journal
The deadly crash that killed Walt Queen's two oldest daughters and a Louisville nurse on Aug. 10, 1989 made the front page of The Courier-Journal the next day.

"I want the kids to feel free, to understand that no matter what you do, if you confess what you’ve done and ask for forgiveness, it’s over. And that’s the way, of course, it is with Jesus," Queen said.

Even today, as he faces his biggest fight, he’s filled with joy and hope.

"If I don’t make it here, I’m going to make it there and that’s where my girls are, and they’re going to be the first to greet me and say, Dad, we’ve been waiting," Queen said.

Since his diagnosis, one of Walt Queen's elves has set up a GoFundMe account to help with the skyrocketing costs of his medical bills along with his mortgage. If he were to narrow his wish list down to one thing, it would be that his wife, Barbara, not be left with their debt after he's gone. You can help Walt Queen and his family by donating here and keep up with updates on his Facebook page.

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