12/26/11 – The News-Herald
Santa Claus, aka Bill Jindra of Twinsburg visits Mary Dan on Christmas morning at David Simpson Hospice House in Cleveland. Jindra has continued a family tradition that started 95 years ago.
“Oh man, what a blessing.”
For 82-year-old Dolores Waite, a knock on her door brought more than tidings of great joy and a reminder that it was, in fact, Christmas Day.
A resident of the David Simpson Hospice House on East 185th Street in Cleveland since July, Waite was surprised when a bearded man in a red suit shouting “Ho, ho, ho” walked into her room.
But this wasn’t just any Santa Claus.
No, when Bill Jindra put on his suit Sunday morning and headed to Hospice House in his bright red jeep, he was extending to 95 the number of years his family has visited the sick at Cleveland-area hospitals.
His grandfather started the tradition in 1916 at the former St. Alexis Hospital in Cleveland. Jindra’s dad took over after that, and Jindra was allowed to join Santa’s helpers as an eighth-grader in 1963.
Jindra took over officially in 1981 when his father died. He said he and his brothers originally shared the duty, but he’s been in the suit since St. Alexis closed and Jindra’s group relocated their visits to Hospice House in 2003.
Just as the real Santa has a slew of helpers who build his toys and handle the operation at the North Pole, Jindra relies on friends to ensure no one is missed.
Casey Wieczorek and Dick Ioffreda handle the carts of goodies that Santa drops off in each patient’s room. Marie Przeszlo, also known as Mrs. Claus, is up front greeting patients as she hands out treats that included oranges, apples, Humphrey popcorn balls and bags filled with a holiday pencil, a sharpener and a candy cane.
Wieczorek and Ioffreda met Jindra when the trio worked together at the American Red Cross in Cleveland.
Wieczorek, a North Ridgeville resident who since has retired, said he wouldn’t think of spending his Christmas morning any other way.
“I come just to pay forward,” he said. “Just to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Ioffreda, of Macedonia, said he joined Jindra about eight years ago when Jindra asked if he wanted to come along.
“This is so satisfying,” he said. “I’m here today and this is my grandson’s first Christmas. It’s about more than gifts and toys and stuff. It’s about people.
“Kids need to learn that.”
Ioffreda’s wife, Marvel, said the visit has become their new tradition now that they’re on their own.
“It’s nice to come here after all these years,” she said. “Our kids are grown and it’s just the two of us. You never know, he may be coming out here to see us some day.
“We get as much as we put in.”
Waite got plenty out of it, too.
“Never give up, there’s always somebody out there who loves you,” she said. “They proved it today.
“I was shocked.”
As Jindra and his helpers walked through the halls, Hospice House staff, volunteers and patients families beamed as they came upon the group.
“My heart just jumped, didn’t you see it?” patient Marie Edge said. “Yes, indeed, my heart jumped.”
The 79-year-old picked up a the popcorn ball and beamed as she studied it, wide-eyed.
A few doors down the hall, Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Coordinator of Volunteers Lori Scotese walked in 88-year-old Mary Dan’s room and asked her if Santa could stop in for a visit.
He and his crew didn’t know what hit them.
“Santa, I was born in Romania, so I’m a hunky,” she said to roars of laughter.
She spoke with Santa and his helpers about her gifts, which included an orange, an apple and a red carnation.
“God bless you all,” she said just before reaching out to kiss Santa’s hand.
Mrs. Claus remarked on Dan’s glittery manicure, which was completed by a Hospice staff member.
“When you’re young like I am,” she said with a laugh before trailing off.
As the group prepared to leave, Dan gave them a special goodbye: “God bless you all, and I know you are all wonderful.”
Dan, who taught sixth grade when she was younger, said the gifts reminded her of childhood.
“I came from a very poor family,” she said. “So I was the one who would want this and this and this. Santa Claus was good to me — look, even today!”
Her thoughts turned to her parents.
“My parents were able to buy me these things,” she said. “They didn’t speak English very well, but they were very good to me.”
Dan also offered some appropriate advice in light of the kindness Jindra’s group showed during their visit.
“What you don’t use, you lose,” she said. “If someone does something good for you, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
Before the group headed to their second stop of the morning — at Holy Family Cancer Home in Parma — the joker of the group got very serious for a moment.
“Look, if no one knew I came out here, I would still come out here,” Dick Ioffreda said. “As the years go on, we’re making this a tradition. It’s on the calendar every year.”
And Scotese is happy about that.
“Hospice is about living and bringing comfort to people,” she said. “And anything we can do to bring joy to people is what matters.”