Jamil Shriner Center_Santa

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA-DECEMBER 20: Larry and Kaye Gentry have been Santa and Mrs. Klaus for more than 30 years on behalf of the Jamil Shriner Center in Columbia S.C.(Photo Credit: Amanda Cooper/Cola Daily)

One local couple has been Santa and Mrs. Claus on behalf of the Jamil Shiner Center in Columbia for more than 30 years.

Larry and Kaye Gentry dress up for the center’s Patient Christmas Party every Christmas. The annual event, hosted by the Jamil Shriners, provides a gift selected by the children who have received assistance from the center during the year. The organization’s service area spans from Aiken to Columbia to Pageland, and more than 300 children, parents, and grandparents are invited to the holiday party.

Being the infamous Christmas duo has brought extreme joy to the couple. Both said that seeing the excitement and appreciation in the children’s faces has kept them committed to the role over the years.

Larry, who has been a member of the local temple located off Bush River Road since 1981, said around 1990 he was asked to join the Hospital Relations Unit, which led to him playing Santa Claus.

“At that time, there were a lot of guys in the unit, but they all had birthdays, they moved away it was too far for them to come,” he said. “I was the only man left standing; I had to carry the torch and did.”

Both Larry and his wife Kaye have carried the torch well; their commitment to ensuring that each child feels holiday joy during the annual Patient Christmas Party is evident.

“You know, when we do these Christmas parties for these patients, it just fills my heart so full, said Kaye. “To me, that’s the main thing about Christmas is giving for these children. To me, Christmas is basically over because of what we do for them. I just don’t know how to explain it just fills your heart so full.”

According to the Jamil Shrine Temple Columbia’s website, the Shiners abound in philanthropy. There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children, 18 orthopedic hospitals, three burn hospitals, and one hospital that provides orthopedic, burn, and spinal cord injury care. This level of care is only made possible due to consistent donations from shrine units and the public.

“We depend on donations from other units in the temple," Larry said. "These guys, they give up the money, and that’s what we depend on, not donations from the temple office, but these other units donate money." 

The first Shriners Hospital opened in 1922 and has cured or substantially helped more than 735,000 children. Visit jamilshriners.com for more information about the center.

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