Vet of Year brought joy to community

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Photo above: The late Jack Cummings, who played Santa for many years at the Dataw Island Santa Claus Luncheon, has been named community’s Veteran of the Year. Photo by Laura McCarty.

By Laura McCarty

Dataw Island salutes veterans each year with a full arsenal of events honoring their service, highlighted by the naming of the Dataw Island Veteran of the Year.

This year’s honoree is named in memoriam to veteran Jack Cummings.

Cummings’ service to the military as well as the community at large was recognized at a ceremony on Nov. 7. 

In addition to being recognized by adults as a great friend, many area children get a special twinkle in their eye as they see the man who served as Santa Claus for military children.

Cummings entered the Army in 1968 and spent his duty years at the Pentagon. Coming from a line of police personnel, after his service he spent almost 30 years in law enforcement, first serving on the Capitol Police and then transferring to the Washington, D.C., police.

After retiring in 2000, he and his wife moved to Dataw Island, where he quickly became involved in veterans’ causes, initially with the Marines’ Toys for Tots program, and also helped plan a dinner to honor the Veterans of World War II.

About 14 years ago, a gunnery sergeant working with Toys for Tots made a passing comment that it was a shame that nothing was done for the kids of deployed Marines, and thus, the Dataw Island Santa Claus Luncheon was born.

Working with Dave Britton, Dataw’s director of golf, the event is now one of the biggest events of the Dataw Christmas season and in all year but one has featured Cummings as the jolly ol’ man himself.

Vickie Cummings, Jack’s widow and sometime Mrs. Claus and Chief Elf, noted her husband always loved this event, sharing the joy of Christmas with these children and their families.

The luncheon elves estimate that over the years gifts and Christmas cheer have been distributed to more than 650 kids, as they sat on Santa’s lap, had their picture taken, and thanked Santa for the gift they chose from the many donated by Dataw’s residents.   

Ret. Colonel Peter Buck, former commander of MCAS Beaufort, summed it up best at one of the luncheons: “For many of these children, this IS their Christmas.”