Steven Hunnicutt, 67, doled out gifts, hugs to seniors

So for the past five or six years at facilities in Fayetteville and Union City, the deacon at New Hope Baptist Church would arrive bearing hugs, ministerial words — and gifts.

After all, he was Santa.

“We would take presents, and Santa would come around ... and bring them a gift,” said Maxine Hunnicutt, his wife of 48 years. “A lot of those people needed family. It was a real perker-up for them.”

Mr. Hunnicutt even had the physique of the Jolly Old Elf, filling the suit without a lot of extra padding, Mrs. Hunnicutt said.

As Santa delivered blankets, scarves and socks to the smiling seniors, Mrs. Hunnicutt and friends Bill and Mary Jo Stephens would share old-time Christmas stories and sing songs or hymns to the folks, many of whom were in their 80s and 90s, she said.

“A lot of times, they would just sit there with tears running down their face,” Mrs. Hunnicutt said. “It just brought back childhood memories.”

Steven Allen Hunnicutt Sr., 67, of Fayetteville died Friday of cancer at Southwest Christian Hospice in Union City.

The funeral is 10 a.m. Thursday at Carl J. Mowell & Son Funeral Home, with burial at 2:30 p.m. at Georgia National Cemetery in Canton. Carl J. Mowell & Son is in charge of arrangements.

Born in 1941 in Union City, Ind., Mr. Hunnicutt grew up in Eaton, Ohio. He joined the Air Force in 1959 and achieved the rank of chief master sergeant.

For 14 years, he was an in-flight fueling specialist, refueling fighter planes in midair.

He retired after 23 years in the Air Force and moved to Fayetteville, where he became an Army analyst. He retired in 2006, with a total of 41 years of service.

Mr. Hunnicutt was active in numerous ministries — and relished his Santa role. But he didn’t just don the suit for seniors at nursing homes. As a member of New Hope Baptist Church’s seniors ministry, called PrimeTime, Mr. Hunnicutt would transform into Santa at the drop of a hat.

Starting the first week of December and lasting several weeks, he played the part for up to 50 people in restaurants and homes as part of Sunday school classes, said Steve Rasmussen, a PrimeTime member.

“He just loved to go out and be Santa Claus and treat people to little gifts ... wherever he had the opportunity to put a little Christmas joy,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Mr. Stephens said Mr. Hunnicutt got the Santa idea during discussions about his holiday ministry work at several nursing homes.

Each year, Mr. Hunnicutt delivered presents, about 150 total, to seniors at Azalea Estates and Lafayette, both in Fayetteville, and Christian City in Union City.

“Steve had a talent for being able to meet people and make them feel loved and wanted and make them feel valuable even when they were old and in wheelchairs,” Mr. Stephens said. “Steve had a special gift.”

And Mrs. Hunnicutt said she wants to see her husband’s work continue. “As far as Santa, I have to find somebody who is willing to do it, has a heart for it and will fit the suit,” she said.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Steven Hunnicutt Jr. of Virginia Beach, Va., and John Hunnicutt of Anchorage, Alaska; a daughter, Donna Hunnicutt Biagioni of Anchorage; and six grandchildren.

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