In 1981, Jim Nentwig drove his three teenage boys into a Boston hospital on Christmas Day to see their mother, who was dying of cancer.
There was a Christmas tree in the room and presents. They were joined by a friend, who dressed as Santa Claus. Together, the visitors made the rounds of all the patients in that small section of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Two months later, 40-year-old Elizabeth Nentwig died.
That was 31 years ago.
Yesterday, Nentwig, a 76-year-old Boxford resident, and his three adult sons returned to Brigham and Women’s on Christmas Day to bring flowers and presents to 400 patients.
Just as they have for the past 31 years.
But that was not the only stop for Santa’s Magic, as the homespun Christmas charity is now called.
Eight teams, all with a Santa and a half-dozen elves, also made stops at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospital in West Roxbury and a dozen veterans’ residences on the North Shore. Nentwig and his sons all served in the Army.
They brought hundreds of poinsettias and gifts — handmade Afghans, bathrobes, slippers, shirts, hats and much more. When they stopped at private homes, they came with roast beef, chickens and hams.
Santa’s Magic rode off early Christmas morning and assembled in teams at each site. After one group of volunteers made an initial visit to see what a patient needed, Santa made his entrance followed by elves with a gift from Santa’s bottomless bag of presents.
Over the years, Nentwig, a retired vice president from John Hancock, has amassed about 100 volunteers. So many want to help, he has to turn people away. They come once and want to come back every year.
Some are police officers, many friends of his son, Tom, a Boxford police officer. Some know or are related to his other sons, Robert and Christopher.