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Toy Drive honors Santa’s generosity

  • Ella Dunphy, 6, of Florence, donates an item Nov. 25, 2017 to the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive sponsored by the Northampton St. Patrick's Association at the Florence Civic Center. The drive was held in honor of her great grandfather, who died in 2011. Aidan O'Connor, 12, of Florence, carries donations from others to the pile, at back. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Among items donated Nov. 25, 2017 to the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive were several blankets, shown here at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Items donated Nov. 25, 2017 to the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive are displayed at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Aidan O'Connor, 12, of Florence, representing the Northampton St. Patrick's Association, arranges items donated Nov. 25, 2017 to the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A painting by John Dunphy of his father Jack Dunphy playing Santa at Look Park before he died in 2011 is displayed Nov. 25, 2017 during the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mary Dunphy of Florence, the widow of Jack Dunphy who died in 2011, receives a hug from family friend Mary Ellen Patenaude of Easthampton, Saturday, during the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive at the Florence Civic Center. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Liam O'Connor, 9, of Florence, representing the Northampton St. Patrick's Association, arranges items donated Nov. 25, 2017 to the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mary Dunphy of Florence, the widow of Jack Dunphy who died in 2011, left, Brenda Ryan, longtime family friend and co-secretary of the Northampton St. Patrick's Association, and Peg Jekanowski of Hadley, the daughter of Dunphy, reminisce about their loved one Nov. 25, 2017 during the annual Jack Dunphy Toy Drive at the Florence Civic Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@RebeccaMMullen
Monday, November 27, 2017

FLORENCE — Santa Claus will come to town for many in the Pioneer Valley this year — with a little help from his friend Jack.

After the Florence Holiday Parade Saturday, the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association held its fourth annual toy drive in the Florence Civic Center. The drive is named in honor of longtime association member Jack Dunphy, who died in 2011.

Those who knew him remember Dunphy as a fun-loving yet private man who played Santa for 25 years in Look Park’s Christmas Train.

“The man really took on the role,” said Dunphy’s son, Tom Dunphy of Leeds. “He thought he was Santa Claus.”

To honor Dunphy’s love of Christmastime, the St. Patrick’s Association felt that it was natural to name the toy drive in his honor.

Toys collected will be distributed to Leeds Elementary, Ryan Road School, Jackson Street School and Bridge Street School, with the remainder going to the national organization Toys for Tots.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing,” Mary Dunphy, Jack Dunphy’s widow, said of the toy drive. “It’s an honor for everyone who works on it.”

In addition to his role at Look Park, Dunphy played Santa at local nursing homes and at the annual Christmas party of University Products, where he worked as vice president.

“He would never take any money or anything for it,” said Mary Dunphy. “He did it for love.”

Daughter Peg DunphyJekanowski chimed in that her father attempted to hide his Santa alter-ego to retain his anonymity.

“He’d kill us if he knew we were telling all his secrets,” she said. “Some of his own grandkids don’t even know who he was.”

“He would love the idea of the toy drive, but he wouldn’t love the publicity.”

Dunphy loved the Christmas season, decorating the family home from top to bottom. He also had a collection of miniature Santa figures.

On Saturday, St. Patrick’s Association volunteers decorated the Civic Center with a Christmas tree and hung a painting of Jack Dunphy dressed as Santa hugging a little girl.

Family members say that Dunphy loved connecting with children as Santa. When children came to see him, he would help ease their fears by bending down to look them in the eye.

“If they were shy or scared of him, he’d have them warm up,” Peg DunphyJekanowski said. “We always wonder how many thousands of photographs he’s in.”

Before illness kept him from playing Santa, Dunphy gave one of his prized Santa suits to DunphyJekanowski’s husband so he could continue the family tradition. On Saturday, he wore it to play Santa in the Florence Holiday Parade.

In addition to the Jack Dunphy Toy Drive, the Northampton St. Patrick’s Day Association plans the St. Patrick’s Parade in Holyoke, runs a scholarship for Smith Vocational School graduates and gives to local sports teams. This winter, they will continue their tradition of acting as elves in Look Park’s Santa’s Village.