When he’s out to eat, walking down the street or in his office, everyone knows Doyle Davidson as Uncle Sam.
He has been portraying the character in the All Schools Day parade since 1967 — this will be his 50th and final year.
“The funny thing about being Uncle Sam for this long is so many people in town know me as Uncle Sam. I’ll pick up the phone and call for somebody and they’ll say, ‘Well who shall I say is calling.’ And I’ll say, ‘Just say Uncle Sam is calling,’” Davidson said.
Everything about Davidson screams Uncle Sam.
From his office nickknacks to the license plate on his car, he takes great pride in the role even when he is not wearing the top hat.
“It’s hard for me to go out for a meal anytime because someone will come by and say ‘Hi Uncle Sam.’ It has its humors and highlight moments,” he said.
Like many good soldiers, he was drafted into the role.
“I remember Howard Renfro sitting on the back of a Mustang Convertible as Uncle Sam in 1967, and I thought that was a little unusual, but he called me after the parade and he said he wanted me to take over this job for him. I answered, ‘I can do that for you Howard until you get back on your feet.’ Well, unfortunately he passed away three years later so I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.
Davidson said playing Uncle Sam has been a “real honor” but he is ready to pass the hat to someone else.
“I’ll miss it, but as I tell my senator... I’m in favor of term limits and I’ve done mine,” he said.
Davidson won’t be walking in the parade this year because he broke his leg back in February.
He plans to ride out in style on his daughter’s red Camaro Convertible.
“I didn’t anticipate that I would be riding down Main Street in a car, but that’s the way it’s going to work out,” he said.
If not for the broken leg, he would have done his last parade on foot.
“I most likely would’ve walked, definitely,” he said.
Davidson said he doesn’t portray Uncle Sam for the fame — he does it to honor America’s servicemen and women.
“I consider this a real honor due to the respect that I have for our armed forces and military. I always congratulate and thank every one of them,” he said.
He will suit up today in a red, white and blue pinstripe jacket, don a white tie-on chin beard and hat.
At more than 6 feet tall he won’t be hard to spot.
“They need to find someone as tall and slender as I am because the costume won’t fit anyone else,” he said.
After 50 years of service, most of his costume is still intact. However, one piece seemed to get away from him.
“I used to have a red bowtie that went with the outfit. I loaned it to people over in Canton for one of their parades. Everything came back but that red bow tie. I never got around to having another one made, so I just have a red neck tie,” he said.
Davidson borrows his costume from the McPherson Chamber of Commerce, but said he had an new one made for him as the original began to fade.
He keeps the new outfit at home.
“The original one was made our of a real shiny fabric and it began to discolor and so I had a lady here in town make another one for me and I’ve been wearing it for 20 to 25 years,” he said.
The hat, provided by the chamber, wasn’t up to Davidson’s standards, so sent for one from New York. It set him back $75.
“Empire State Fashions built it very well and had it made specifically to fit me. I don’t know how it’s going to fit anyone else,” he said. “The original hat was a real flimsy plastic thing.”
Davidson has many memories of portraying Uncle Sam, but one in particular stands out.
“My daughter used to teach kindergarten over at Inman Elementary School back in 1978 and she would ask me to come down and talk to her class about Uncle Sam. They were all sitting around in a semicircle and, of course, me standing in front of them with my hat on being over 7 feet tall I told them, ‘You know, I’m not really Uncle Sam, but I’m Renee’s dad.’ That was in 1978 when we had our 200th anniversary for the country,” he said.
“I told them, ‘I do this in memory of our country, which is over 200 years old.’ And one little boy in particular was asking a lot of questions and he asked me if I had to color my hair. Originally I did.”
After he gave his talk, the bell rang and the children had to catch their buses, but Davidson recalls one little boy staying behind; apparently mesmerized by him as the character.
“I told him, ‘You know you better catch your bus and that maybe I’ll see you next year.’ He looks up at me and says, ‘Mr. you might be dead next year,’ ” Davidson laughed.
Davidson said he is grateful to have been McPherson’s Uncle Sam for so many years.
“It’s been an honor... and for the next person who takes this over; just do it with grace and be honored that you’ve been asked to do it. It’s an enjoyable opportunity, do it with pride and you’ll always remember this,” he said.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.