Santa rides into Suffolk nursing home

Published 8:47 pm Monday, December 17, 2018

Robert Johnson returned to the Autumn Care nursing home on Friday on his festive, bright-red motorcycle with a trailer full of cheer.

Johnson has made it a December tradition to visit the nursing home dressed as Santa Claus and give out goodies for both residents and staff. He’s been doing this for more than 14 years atop a 1998 Ultra Classic Harley Davidson.

“I’m just a Harley person,” he said as he opened his trailer full of candy and stuffed bears. “I’ve got five bikes, but I ride this one all the time.”

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He comes back every holiday season in memory of his grandmother, Cary Bunch, who spent her final years at Autumn Care. He remembered sitting with her on the front porch of the place to spend time watching the cars go by.

When Johnson comes into town from Salem — his motorcycle and gifts carried more than 200 miles in a trailer — he visits the Autumn Care residents and family in the area. He also rides around town to spread joy on the road.

“This is my Christmas, and I have fun. When people see me and start blowing their horns, that means I gave somebody a couple seconds of happiness and joy. They’re happy, and I’m happy. That’s what it’s about,” he said.

He strolled into the nursing home on Friday morning with warm greetings for staff. He thanked them with candy for looking after the 100 or so residents. Gentlemen got candy canes and ladies got Hershey’s Kisses, or “a kiss from Santa,” as Johnson called it.

He had plenty of candy for residents as well, along with hugs and about 120 stuffed bears. There were also extra-special bears for the nursing home’s oldest residents, like 103-year-old Florida Haughton.

Residents have grown accustomed to his white-bearded face around the holidays, according to activity assistant Celeste Alston-Daniels.

“He brings plenty of joy,” Alston-Daniels said. “He brightens their day when he comes.”

Johnson went from room to room carrying his big red bag and a smile on his face. According to him, there’s a Santa Claus in everyone. All people have to do to bring that jolliness out is brighten someone else’s cold winter day.

“That’s what Santa is (about). It’s doing something for somebody else and giving someone that excitement,” he said.