At the Village at Wexford Christmas House on Dec. 9, Leah Copeland, age 5, of Hilton Head Island, giggles as she asks Santa for her “wish for a pillowtop mattress to come true.” PHOTO BY LYNNE COPE HUMMELL

A Santa Claus on Hilton Head Island has turned the tables and is asking for something – not for himself, but for a young man in Bluffton who is battling an aggressive and rare cancer.

Steve Ranney, a local fisherman who moonlights during the holiday season as Santa, is collecting donations at his “house” in the Village at Wexford for the medical fund for 15-year-old Michael Mugrage, who was recently diagnosed with high-risk rhabdomyosarcoma.

Ranney read an article about the young man and recognized his last name. Steve and his wife, Patte, had met Michael’s mother, Jessica, while shopping at Haverty’s, where she works, and developed a casual friendship.

“I saw that article and I knew I should do something,” Steve Ranney said. “Santa gives, so I should give too.”

Ranney has pledged to give all his Santa earnings this year to Michael’s medical fund. He plays about 20 Santa gigs a season.

Ranney said he makes his living fishing and with his construction company, Ranney and Sons. The earnings from playing Santa are extra.

He was inspired to “do something” because of his and Patte’s son Peter’s nonprofit organization in Atlanta, Sunshine on a Ranney Day, which provides adaptive building projects for children with grave illnesses and special needs.

Ranney said Michael’s story and his plight resonated with him. “We have a grandson who is about Michael’s age,” he said. Also, the Mugrages recently moved to Bluffton from Hawaii, where Ranney was stationed when he was in the service.

In addition to giving his earnings, Ranney, who has been playing Santa for 11 years, enlisted the help of his friend Philippe Feret, owner of Hilton Head Social Bakery, to raise even more funds.

Feret had wanted to donate gingerbread houses for a charitable cause this season, but didn’t have a charity in mind. “When I heard about Michael, I called Philippe and said, ‘This is it,'” Ranney said.

Feret has made and decorated four gingerbread houses so far. The current house sits on a table near Santa’s chair at the Village at Wexford, next to a collection bin.

All cash donations go to Michael’s medical fund, through his mother, Jessica.

“What I’m doing is small compared to her need,” Ranney said, “but I want her to know the community is here to help.”

Feret applauded his friend’s efforts in using the character he plays to inspire giving. “He is doing what Santa should do,” he said, “which is taking of care of kids – and this year, one in particular.”

This is just the beginning of their efforts, Ranney and Feret said. A golf tournament is being planned for “when the weather gets warmer.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family cover medical expenses, with a goal of $100,000. At press time, the donations totaled $52,825.

In an update posted Dec. 10, Jessica Mugrage noted that Michael has been having chemo for five days in a row, with short breaks between treatments.

She said she expects that he will be admitted to the hospital Christmas week for seven weeks of intense treatment.

She also asked that donors share the page via social media so that additional donors might be inspired to give.

To donate, visit and search Michael Mugrage.

Cards of encouragement and good wishes may be sent in care of Jessica Mugrage to 101 Fording Bend, Bluffton, SC 29910.