John Luce has worn many hats over the years. He’s been a snowplow driver and a school bus driver. He’s part of a Vietnam veterans motorcycle club and a grandpa, too.
Luce’s new hat, or rather head, is the hottest of the bunch. The 64-year-old is the Easter Bunny at the Gallatin Valley Mall. Luce says the massive rabbit costume is one warm getup.
“It’s so hot in that suit, you can’t breathe,” Luce said. “It’s very difficult job to do.”
Despite the stuffy suit, Luce says he enjoys being the bunny. The children who adore him make it worth the sweat.
“A little girl come running over and jumps on my lap,” Luce says remembering his favorite moment in the fluffy white suit. “When it was time to leave, she cried. I’ve had a few of those. It kinda brings tears to my eyes.”
As the oldest of six children and a proud father and grandfather, Luce said he’s always liked kids. Last year, the folks at the mall asked Luce to play Santa Claus. With a white beard, he fit the profile just fine. This season, he’s showing the same amount of perseverance with the long lines of kids.
On a Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m., there’s a line 10-deep outside of Easter Town in front of JCPenney. Everyone is waiting for the star of the show, Luce, to hippity-hop to his bunny chair.
Moms bounce babies in ruffles and bows on their hip while they wait. Four-year-olds in pastels and bunny ears grab coloring books as they skip from Luce’s lap into the mall.
Parents proudly march their children onto the bunny’s lap and try every manner of cheery coaxing to get their munchkin to smile. The photographer furiously squeeks a toy to get the children to look in the right direction. Some babies coo in response, others cry. As soon as the line begins to dwindle, it magically replenishes.
Luce settles in for a long evening. He weathers each little visitor with patience, regardless of whether they squirm and scream. Most kids are at least polite, even if they’re scared of the big bunny suit. Last Sunday was different.
“My worst memory was last Sunday,” Luce said. “I was looking out and a little kid and his father were standing there so I waved to the kid. He ran over, grabbed me by the ear and started punching me. His dad was just standing there.”
Naughty kids aside, Luce says his gig as the Easter Bunny is the best retirement job he’s had. Luce will play Santa again this winter for sure. He doesn’t know whether he’ll don the hare suit again, he will decide after his final sitting with the kids tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m.