Oregon City Santa marries on Christmas tree farm in Molalla
Oregon City Santa and Mrs. Claus' wedding showed how far Santa, also known as Keith McDonley, has bounced back after a bout of COVID that included 62 days in the hospital.
Oregon City Santa and Mrs. Claus married on Christmas tree farm in Molalla, and their Christmas-themed reception dinner took place at Gray Gables Estate in Oak Grove on Aug. 8. Their event served as the anniversary celebration of McDonley's "Christmas miracle last August," when he came out of a coma.
McDonley, known as Milwaukie Santa for 11 years, became the Oregon City Santa starting last December. The couple had purchased their Oregon City house just a few days before he was hospitalized.
From his home driveway for a couple hours nightly in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, McDonley poses for free photos with families, collects gifts and gives them away to families in need.
"Last August, I was just coming out of my coma, having to try and learn to sit up and walk again," he said.
This August, McDonley walked down the aisle with his bride, Hayley Cogburn, a registered nurse who was born and raised in Oregon. McDonley calls her "my superhero."
"Without Hayley's love and support throughout the past year, I wouldn't be here today," he said.
Cogburn, now known as Oregon City Mrs. Claus, regularly joins Oregon City Santa (and Milwaukie Santa before that) on her nights off from work, usually by helping McDonley take photos during his nightly Santa duties during the holiday season.
Cogburn said that holding vigil by McDonley's hospital bedside and not being able to do anything to help him was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do.
"I knew I wanted to marry my best friend when he was in the coma, and when Keith woke up out of the coma, I even considered asking Keith to marry me in the hospital, but I knew he would recover and we would have our Christmas wedding," she said.
For the wedding, the couple hired a horse and carriage, Christmas carolers, another Santa Claus, Kona Ice and country music artist Buddy Jewell. The wedding had snow, Christmas lights and all the magical possibilities that McDonley learned over a decade of portraying Santa. All of their guests received Christmas gifts from Santa himself.
The McDonleys met on the dating app "OK Cupid" about six years ago. Last year they went through more together than most married couples ever have to endure together.
While McDonley was hospitalized, Cogburn worked her 12-hour shifts at the hospital and still came to be by her boyfriend's bedside every day for 14 hours each day.
"Hayley is an extremely strong, big-hearted woman who loves taking care of others," McDonley said.
Cogburn credits McDonley's current health to his will to live, God's unfailing love, prayer he received and the couple's love for one another. Cogburn enlisted people around the world, including as far away as Kenya, to pray for his recovery from COVID.
"Most people that go through everything Keith went through don't survive, but Keith did, and for that I thank God every day," she said.
McDonley said that he's "always been grossed out" by medical stuff.
"So, to be engaged to a nurse is the complete opposite of me, but what they say is true, opposites do attract," he said.
McDonley's engagement to an RN "truly saved my life" he said, because her knowledge in the medical field provided needed comfort during his recovery process.
"I knew if Hayley wasn't worried, I shouldn't be either," he said. "I honestly don't know how Hayley got through everything last year, while working and packing to move into the new house."
Cogburn experienced what she called "an unnatural sense of peace knowing Keith would get better," even in the toughest times.
"Most people don't have a sense of peace like that when their loved one is in such grave condition, but for some reason I did," she said. "Keith is also a hardheaded strong-willed fighter, and I knew Keith wouldn't go down without a fight."
McDonley said he always knew Cogburn loved him, but last year she showed it more than he could have ever imagined. When they said their vows, they had already been tested on the "through sickness and health" part.
While lying in the hospital bed a couple days before being intubated, McDonley called Cogburn's father to ask for permission to marry his daughter.
"I remember saying to Hayley's dad, David, that I didn't want to go one more day not being married to her," McDonley said.
As their wedding officiant, they chose the husband of one of McDonley's nurses from the hospital, bringing the entire experience from last year full circle. Their wedding date, 8/8, was chosen because McDonley spent a total of eight weeks in the hospital, where he received eight scars and stayed in eight different hospital rooms.
"We both love the fact that the number eight sideways is the infinity symbol," he said. "Also, the number eight represents new beginnings."
Cogburn said their wedding more magical than they could have ever imagined. Even in the August heat, the magic of Christmas came alive more than once for the couple and wedding attendees.
"Everyone had a holly, jolly good time," she said.
Several guests told the McDonleys that their wedding was more Christmassy than others they had been to in December. Their flower girl's grandfather was not a fan of attending weddings, but wanted to see his granddaughter. When leaving the reception, grandpa stated it was the "best wedding ever," and that he had so much fun.
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