Bentivolio, who served in Vietnam and during Operation Desert Storm, spent a year in Iraq as a platoon sergeant during the current conflict there. He was medivaced out after sustaining a neck injury in 2008 and ended up at the Fort Knox military hospital in Kentucky to recuperate. One weekend, as he drove around in a rented car, he noticed a group of what appeared to be Revolutionary War reenactors. Intrigued, he pulled over. “People told me they were the Tea Party, and I said, ‘You’re supposed to be in Boston!’” he says with a laugh. “And I said, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?’ ‘It stands for Taxed Enough Already.’ I said, ‘Well that’s a good idea!’” Rand Paul was speaking at the rally. “They woke me up to what’s happening,” he says. And they inspired him to run for office — first in a 2010 Republican state-senate primary (he took second in a field of five) and then against McCotter this year.Continuing:
He’s used to being a Claus, not a congressman. He started doing the now-famous impersonation in the late ’80s as part of an effort to draw Christmas shoppers to Milford’s downtown. He and a friend put together an old-world Victorian Santa costume, complete with a wreath instead of a hat and a professional glue-on beard. (“It works so well that when you take it off — yeah, it kind of hurts a bit. I didn’t have to shave for a month afterwards, because I think we pulled out the roots!”) Some merchants bought a sleigh, and he bought the reindeer. Two hundred people showed up for his first official appearance, and over the season the crowds kept growing. Bentivolio didn’t plan on making a business out of it, but a man from another town finagled him into it. “‘Hey, would you do this in our town?’” Kerry recalls him asking. “I just came up with a price I knew he’d turn down. I said, ‘I’ll do it for $2,000.’ He says, ‘Good! I’ll see you next week!’” Thus, Old Fashion Santa & Company was born. The business brings in enough money to pay for the reindeer. The six current members of his flock — Aurora, Rumples, The Crazy One (“She’s a bit of a crazy reindeer, stubborn as all get-out”), Bull (“The bull is Bull”), and two fawns as yet unnamed — share Chèz Bentivolio with two personable cats and a few hives of bees. Bentivolio also pickles cucumbers; cans applesauce, strawberry jam, and peaches; and makes wine when the frost doesn’t kill his grapes.