Along the way, he began to find ways to turn his natural talent for playing the big man into a positive for those who often go without.
First, in Central Lake, Jim would collect the names of the poorest families in town from the school district.
"We didn't have anything then, but people would donate to him," Lauren said.
Jim would put on his suit and deliver the donations to the most needy families in the community before Christmas. He continued with the giving after moving to Traverse City. He would charge $150 per hour to appear at parties and for special events. But he never kept any of the money, Lauren said.
Nomatter his family's financial situation, Jim would turn over his entire season's earnings to Father Fred.
Aaron remembers trying to convince his dad to keep some of the money a few years ago when the economy made budgets tight.
"I said, 'This year you could use the money,'" Aaron said. "But he insisted, 'This is the right thing to do, these people need it.'"
It was an argument Aaron knew he never would win.
But sometimes giving gifts and money simply weren't enough. There were times Jim was called in to make a special summer appearance for a terminally-ill child. Or those times when Hospice workers asked for an extra visit. Jim always obliged, insisting that, "These people don't know anybody, but they know Santa," Lauren said. "Everyone was convinced he was Santa."
"He always found the great in everything," Aaron added.
"He was bigger than life," Sarah said. "We shared him with everybody."
Despite all the gifts he gave during the decades, the greatest gift Jim Draplin ever gave was himself.