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Dedicated Volunteer Over The Years Is Also Mrs. Claus

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Posted: Friday, April 19, 2019 11:12 am

Lori Hottel loves to help others and she has dedicated her life to that endeavor. She jokes that her name is Gilda Claus but people call her Lori. As a volunteer Hottel has played Mrs. Santa Claus for many years and has coordinated many parades across the county as well as delivered bread for the Food Bank.

Hottel, 85, is originally from Chicago where she and her first husband owned a tavern. After she lost her son at 2 years old and got divorced she moved to Anaheim where she had family. One weekend during a visit to Imperial Beach, she attended a ball at the Amphibious Base where she met her future husband John, who was a Navy service member. They were together for 46 years and lived in Imperial Beach until he passed away five years ago.

Once Hottel moved to Imperial Beach she worked as bar tender at different places that are no longer in business but old timers may recall: Hutches Country Western, a bar at 13th and Palm Avenue; High Chaparral in the current location of Salty Frogs; and Bonanza at 10th Street and Palm Avenue. She stopped tending bar in 1974 after an accident that hurt her rotator cuff.

Also, Hottel has also been selling Avon products for 50 years to supplement her income.

Her love for helping others led to her many volunteer jobs she had over the years.

She was led into being a parade volunteer when Hottel became part of a car club after she bought a 1967 Pontiac GTO convertible from a man she called her uncle because her aunt lived with him.

“When I saw the convertible with the top down, it took my breath away. He let me drive it down Silver Strand,” she recalled.

Hottel bought the car, which is a classic with a white and red interior, and she has used it to drive VIPs for many parades over the years. Soon after buying her car she heard of a car club that met every Friday night at Richard’s Drive-in in Santee. Once she became part of the group, she started filling in for a person who was unable to coordinate car rides for the Mother Goose Parade. That was the beginning of her 35 years of coordinating parades.

One of the parades was for the U.S. Open Sandcastle, a position she relished for many years until the event was held no longer. She recalls she started volunteering when Bill Russel was mayor of IB. Later she and former Councilwoman Lorie Bragg worked side by side on the parade when Bragg was chamber director. “She did the paperwork and I’d call all the people, the clowns, the horse people, the Grand Marshall…” she recalled.

Thanks to Hottel’s work with the Pearl Harbor Survivors and furnishing rides for them, she was made an honorary member of the group and she is invited to the Pearl Harbor Survivor Memorial on Dec. 7 on the USS Midway every year - something she looks forward to.

There are probably very few, if any, parades Hottel has not been involved in over the years. The list is very long with the Veteran’s Day Parade, Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Big Balloon Parade, Coronado Fourth of July, Chula Vista Starlight, MLK parade. For the past few years since the Sun and Sea Festival has been in existence in IB she has coordinated the cars for the parade as well. “I furnish the convertibles. I have an address book with numbers of people who have convertibles,” she said.

Over the years she has spent her own money to help with the parades whether it was buying flags, signs or providing refreshments for the drivers and VIPs but she didn’t mind sharing what she had. “My gift is from God. I’m a server and a giver. My heart is bigger than me. If you can’t afford it, God provides, “ she said.

These days she doesn’t drive her GTO during the parades but she lets Gina, the bartender at the Fleet Reserve drive it. She is only one she trusts with her car.

For 15 years Hottel and her husband John delivered bread on behalf of the Food Bank every day of the week which they picked up from various stores and donated to churches and other venues. On days when her husband couldn’t go Hottel went alone because she knew people depended on her.

And then there’s her role as Mrs. Claus. “I love it,” she said of playing Mrs. Claus at Christmas Comes to IB. “I’m Mrs. Santa Claus everywhere I go.”

Hottel carries on with her role as Mrs. Santa Claus throughout the year giving candy canes away any opportunity she gets. Hottel has also played Mrs. Santa for the Fleet Reserve Children’s Christmas party.

Hottel is a fixture at the Fleet Reserve not just because she is a Women’s Auxiliary. Since she doesn’t cook at home any longer she goes to the Fleet Reserve for meals as well as special holidays and everyone knows her there.

Hottel suffers from a serious lung disease called valley fever and neuropathy on her legs and feet but she doesn’t let the pain stop her. She is a cheerful person that still wants to help others.

Hottel belongs to the Bethany Assembly of God, a Pentecostal Church. She became a Born Again Christian at the lowest point in her life when she was grieving after the passing of her mom and she and her husband were having a rough patch. One day she finally looked in the mirror and said to herself “What is wrong with you? You have people that love you.” She then asked a friend if she could attend church with her, and her faith has been her strength ever since.

Although she now volunteers a lot less, in her younger days she made it her mission to help others.

“I volunteered for everything,” she said.

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