Left side:top: Santa brothers:John, George, Donald, Norman (seated). Center:the Santa wives. Bottom:Stephen and Madelyn Santa. Right side:top:kerosene truck. Center:part of the first truck fleet. Bottom: John Santa at entrance to Santa Energy headquarters
This Sãnta story has nothing to do with reindeer or chimneys or HO-HO-HO. It is the story of a Hungarian immigrant family, of honest hard work, fair treatment of employees, and perseverance.
Grandpa Sánta was born in 1863, in the town of Janic which is now in the Slovak Republic (since WW I), and emigrated to the US around 1880. Grandma emigrated later, and they were married in the Hungarian St. Ladislaus Church in South Norwalk. They had two daughters, Anna and Bertha. (Anna would later marry John Lesko, whose family to this day owns a prominent funeral home in Fairfield.)
In 1895, the Sánta family returned to Hungary, to Forró-Encs on the Hernád River. Reason for this may have been the depression of the time, or may have had something to do with a small inheritance. At any rate, that is where Stephen Sánta was born in 1896. Two years later, his family came back to the States, settling in Bridgeport’s West End, which was the Hungarian section. That inheritance could not have been a large one, because Grandpa worked in a foundry here to support his family.
Steve attended St. Stephen School, graduating in 1909 or 1910. He then was hired by the Crane Company, a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures. He commuted there by walking or bicycling to its location on South Avenue, across the creek from the present Sãnta headquarters. He was active in the Hungarian community, joining the Western Jacksons athletic club and becoming its football team manager. He also played in their band, on the banjo and the mandolin.
In the Pleasure Beach ballroom, Steve met a well-known Irish singer, Madelyn Farley and they were married in 1926. By that time, Stephen worked in the office of the Crane Company but the firm, as so many others, went bankrupt during the Depression. He then got work driving a bread truck; it seemed like a step backwards to go from clerical to manual labor.
A friend working for the Socony Vacuum Oil Company told him of a job opening in the West End. That is where he started running a gas station for that company, later known as Mobil (now Exxon Mobil). When an opening came up for a kerosene truck driver, he took it, delivering that product for the stoves that heated the cold-water flats.
Sometime later, Mobil was getting out of selling kerosene, and offered Stephen the option of buying the business, which he and Madelyn did, on November 4, 1940. By this time, he was 44 years old, had four children (three boys and a girl). His fourth son, John, was born in 1942.
Madelyn’s brother George generously lent them three thousand dollars to buy their first fleet of new trucks, in 1947. In addition to transporting kerosene, they also then began delivering heating oil.
In 1957, Stephen came back to buy the building in which he had worked for Mobil on Admiral Street. It then became the headquarters for the Sãnta enterprise.
Their three sons: Norman, George and Donald, and the parents were active in the business almost from the start. Then in 1957, Steve and Madelyn turned the business over to those sons with two simple provisions: They would provide lifetime care for their parents and they would make room for their youngest brother, John, if and when he came into the business after he was 30 years old. John finished college in 1964, did his stint in the military and then came into the business too.
In 1972, the Sãnta company bought the terminal across the street, and went into wholesale business selling to other fuel dealers. They bought high quality oil from Mobil and many others. In 1983, they purchased Buckley Energy, a commercial industrial oil business also selling gasoline. By then, they were operating 70 or 80 oil trucks, in addition to service trucks. For the company’s 50th anniversary in 1990, new colors were adopted. In the mid-nineties they purchased a large wholesale fuel terminal in Tiverton, Rhode Island. They are now doing business in all six New England States. For a while, they also dealt in natural gas but have now sold that portion of the company.
John was in partnership with his brothers until 1993 when he began to buy out their interest in the firm. By 2004, he in turn was bought out by his nephews. But the surviving brothers (Norman has died) all still retain a portion of the business. Today, three nephews, a great-nephew and a great-niece are working there. Lest anyone think this is nepotism, the firm is run on the merit basis: the philosophy that they all must earn their jobs. Today, Sãnta Energy employs close to 200 people.
That’s quite an achievement for the sons of a Hungarian immigrant who started with one kerosene truck! And it proves their motto, which they adopted in their 50th anniversary year: “You can believe in Sãnta!”
John S. Santa, K.M. is Vice Chairman of Santa Energy, and is also a member of the American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Visiting a friend who had been incarcerated, he saw the unmet needs of inmates, particularly their need for spiritual support, addiction therapy, anger management, job training, and above all, the need for jobs upon their release. John Santa is responsible for the establishment of the Malta Prison Volunteers of Connecticut (MPVCT) – now called the Malta Justice Initiative – advocates who inform and educate the public of the opportunities in criminal justice reform. They train prison ministers, and have distributed over 100,000 copies of The Malta Bible and The Malta Prayer Book, in English and in Spanish. They have operated a resettlement program called New Life Ministries in New London, CT, and the Prodigal Project which aims to convince employers to hire the formerly incarcerated. John Santa and his brothers are all grateful to their Dad for having taken them along to the West End in their youth and having introduced them to their Hungarian heritage.