Forget the North Pole, Santa Claus calls Nehalem home.
Or, more accurately, “Santa Ray” calls Nehalem home.
By Jordan Wolfe
Ray Shackelford, owner of Nehalem Bay Winery for 25 years, recently returned from one of his regular trips to Southeast Asia – this being the seventh year donning his “Santa Ray” costume.
Shackelford, with his snow-white hair and full matching beard, puts on a (breathable) long red shirt with white fur trim, identical pants, hat and sack of toys and visits the children housed in the orphanages and the schools of his non-profit organization, Anyway Foundation.
Thumbing through the letters he received from the children, he stopped to point out a pattern.
“How many letters do you read where they thank you for food,” he asked.
With the proceeds from his winery and donations, Shackelford sends about $50,000 annually to Anyway Foundation to meet the needs of orphanages, schools and children’s homes in Cambodia and the Philippines. Additionally, Shackelford said he spends upward of $5,000 of his own money on Christmas for the children.
A remote village in Cambodia became the site of Anyway Foundation’s first school in 2005, the result of a story that began in the late-60s.After being drafted into the US military at the age of 25 – during the Vietnam War, Shackelford eventually worked on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam to assist with a village.
“It was the best job I’ve ever had,” recalled Shackelford.
While working in the US military, his team was given 87 families in a poor, remote village.
“We created roads and paths and designed houses with their [the villagers’] help,” he said.
Ultimately, 87 houses were built and during the construction, the school, church and temple were all added on to.
“My mother even got school supplies,” said Shackelford of his schoolteacher mother. “It was a big addition to this little area.”
Following his service, Shackleford did not return to Vietnam until the mid-90s, where he met and quickly befriended Chan Kem Lang, a Cambodian bicycle driver.
Shackleford would go on to assist Lang – whose nickname was “Elephant” – upgrade to a motorbike and eventually to a car and complete both high school and college.
“I went to his village and saw how poor it was,” said Shackleford, “Elephant was the only person who ever went to school.”
And in 2005, his village finally had built a school.
“It’s the reason I do things there,” said Shackleford, “I trust Elephant.”
In another part of Cambodia, Anyway Foundation built an orphanage.
“When we started the orphanage, we had 19 babies all on formula,” said Shackleford, “But we had one nanny for every two children.”
The youngest of the original group is now six years old and, according to Shackleford, 27 children, to date, have been adopted – all to European countries.
When asked where his philanthropic mindset comes from, Shackleford reminisced about his childhood.
“It goes back to my Methodist upbringing and my mother,” he said, “Beginning in first grade, she would take me to go to migrant camps in Hillsboro to buy things to help.”
When he isn’t spending time in Cambodia or the Philippines, Shackleford travels for pleasure and often seeks out countries in need of help in some kind. He has assisted humanitarian efforts after Hurricane Katrina, in Haiti and Chile after earthquakes.
“You can’t help everyone,” he added, “But you can help everyone you meet.”
Responsible for Anyway Foundation’s early success in Shackleford’s philanthropy has the Nehalem Bay Winery to thank.
Shackleford, the world traveler, has been to 152 different countries and territories and spends anywhere between 50 to 70 days in the United States during any given calendar year.
A Shackleford sighting in Nehalem is rare, indeed.
In August 1991, he found himself sitting in Wheeler’s River Sea Inn, sitting next to Pat McCow, the original owner of the Nehalem Bay Winery.
“We got drunk,” Shackleford said, “He was broke. I asked what he would want for half interest in the winery. I had the cash and bought it.”
Shackleford built a stage and began hosting events ranging from Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” to the North Coast philharmonic orchestra to their monthly summer music festivals covering blues, reggae and bluegrass.
“We’re in talks to have a theatre group in Kansas City play this summer for three weeks in August,” Shackleford said, noting Kansas City’s superb theater scene.
But at the heart of any winery is the product.
“Our Pinot Noir four years ago was the least expensive wine with a 90-plus rating in the world,” he said.
The Nehalem Bay Winery sources their grapes out of the Willamette Valley and a vintner in Salem.
“I don’t know nothing about nothing,” Shackleford said. “We sell wine and have fun. That’s our goal.”
And maybe build a school here and there.
For more information, visit NehalemBayWinery.com and AnywayFoundation.org or call 503-368-WINE (9463). The winery is currently holding a 40 percent sale on their products, is open 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day and is located at 34965 Highway 53 in Nehalem.