Joseph Brocato, who was Santa to disabled children, dies

A man who brought happiness to thousands of children and adults with mental or physical disabilities for more than two decades will be absent from his annual Christmas party this year.

Joseph “Joe B” Brocato died Wednesday at age 79.

In 1990, Brocato founded an organization called Friends of Special People that each year organizes a holiday party featuring clowns, jugglers, elves, music and several Santas. Brocato collected donated goods, money and food to throw the annual bash, which includes goody bags of candy, fruit, toys, toothbrushes and other gifts. This year each child also gets a $20 gift.

“This party is the only Christmas some of these kids will ever see,” Brocato told The Kansas City Star in 2000. “You should see their smiles.”

Brocato started Friends of Special People, a recipient of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, after a friend talked him into playing Santa Claus at a party for 25 children at a former Kansas City school for disabled children.

“Oh my gosh, the children were thrilled, and Joe was ecstatic,” said his wife of 56 years, Frances “Cannova” Brocato.

She said Brocato, “a big man,” thought playing Santa that year would be a one-time gig. But after seeing the happy children, he was compelled to throw a party and play Santa every year. He did just that until there were more children than his lap alone could accommodate, his wife said.

“I was worried, though, that more than one Santa would confuse the children,” she said. “But Joe told the children that so many of them had shown up Santa had to call all his brothers and cousins to come help him.”

With the help of hundreds of volunteers and donations, this year’s party, on Dec. 10, will include more than 1,200 children.

Family and friends said you just can’t talk about Brocato without talking about his Christmas party. “That


Joe,” said long-time friend and party volunteer John Hamilton. “He loved that party. It was his life.”

His wife said when her husband became sick last year, he began talking with friends and family, making them promise they would keep the party going. “It will go on long after we are all gone,” Hamilton said.

Brocato, a Kansas City native, was the retired owner of Citywide Remodelers.

In addition to his wife, Brocato is survived by three children: Michael Brocato, Michelle Mangiaracina and Rose Marie Browne.