SHREVEPORT – Mike Woods got his start as a Santa Claus like many other Santas – as a freshman fraternity pledge at the University of Oklahoma.

Woods’ fraternity participated in Christmas activities at a local Methodist children’s home, and the group was looking for a younger member to put on the holly, jolly red suit.

“Fraternities get the pledges to do all the things nobody else wants to do, but I said, ‘Heck, I’ll do it,’” said Woods, who was part of LSUS’s first graduating class in 1975 before obtaining a degree from OU in 1977. “I had a great time doing it.”

That was the start of nearly 40 decades of Santa stardom for Woods, who asked for a red velvet suit of his own for Christmas when his children were young.

Woods hones his “Ho, Ho, Ho” for a handful of events each holiday season, which includes LSUS’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting on Thursday.

“I was at LSUS when the campus was just two buildings and gravel parking lots,” Woods said. “So to see LSUS become such a beautiful setting, it’s amazing.

“We have Dr. George Kemp to thank for that as he planted and watered these crepe myrtles. We should really be proud of what this campus has become.”

Woods will be a centerpiece of the Holiday Tree Lighting event on Thursday in the Circle of Excellence. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. with the tree lighting at 6 p.m.

“The Holiday Tree Lighting is about celebrating a time of season where we refocus on connections with other people,” said Leigh Chambers, executive director of events and community initiatives. “It’s about providing an opportunity in the season of giving, of celebration, and of lights – common themes in a variety of cultures – to take a moment as a campus and community to reflect on what the season means.

“We’re opening our campus for people to experience the holiday magic. And nothing is more magical than being in darkness and looking up at the beautiful lights on the crepe myrtles and the lights on that giant tree.”

All campus and community members are invited to enjoy photo opportunities with Santa Claus and the tree, a holiday train that laps around the premises, hot cocoa and cookies, and a sprinkling of live holiday music.

Dr. Lacy and Edie Williams, long-time LSUS supporters who donated the Holiday Tree, will do the honors of turning on the lights.

“We’re very thankful to Dr. Lacy and Edie Williams for donating the tree and for their involvement in the Circle of Excellence,” said Laura Perdue, executive director of the LSUS Foundation. “As an ambassador between the campus and the community, this is quite a campus and community tradition.

“We invite the community as well as everybody on campus to celebrate as part of the LSUS family.”