Former dean continues tradition of delivering holiday cheer

December 21, 2017

Santa hands a wrapped present to a little boy." title="Health Sciences Santa Party

For more than half a century, Joe Woods has worn a whimsical red suit and framed his face with a snowy beard.

Just the other day, with the calendar chasing Christmas, Woods delivered this year’s assortment of gifts to children at the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on our North Haven Campus — as one of Santa's favorite helpers.

“It’s just something I love doing,” he said. “I love their faces.”

Woods has served the Quinnipiac community for nearly as long as he’s helped Santa. Over the last 48 years, Woods has taught biology, anatomy and physiology, research methods and other classes. He also was dean of the School of Health Sciences from 1988 to 2005.

“I’ve grown up with a whole series of faculty and administrators who have embodied all of the characteristics of family,” Woods said. “It’s something that’s carried forward here.”

Woods and his wife, Gerry, have collaborated to give back to the Hamden area — and beyond — for many years. Gerry Woods is co-president of the Connecticut chapter of the Pajama Program. This year, she helped collect more than 60 pairs of pajamas and a generous stack of storybooks for underserved children.

The recent festivities in North Haven began with about a dozen students from Cheshire High School’s Secondary Transition Collaborative singing holiday songs.

BS/Master of Occupational Therapy

The program, which is led by Kim Hartmann, director of the Center for Interprofessional Health Care Education, helps Cheshire’s special needs students from ages 18 to 21. These students work with Quinnipiac’s students, faculty and staff to learn job skills, polish their socialization techniques and build a deeper sense of independence.

For Woods, it was one more reason to celebrate the season with children and grandchildren of faculty and staff.

The little girls in dresses and the little boys in lumberjack shirts danced without any inhibition during the Christmas carols. They spoke to Santa in the same, unfettered way.

School of Health Sciences

“I really enjoy having conversations with the children,” Woods said. “Their ideas and Santa’s ideas almost become like one.”

The innocence of the moment, the joy of the season, everything twists together into a perfect holiday helix for Woods.

About 15 years ago, a little girl sat on his lap and stared at the floor. And Woods, always in character this time of year, began one of those magical conversations.

“Would you ever do something special for mommy and daddy, and it doesn’t mean money. It means, are you a good artist?” Woods asked her.

“She told me, ‘Yes, I am.’ So I asked if she could draw a picture, color it, fold it up and put it inside an envelope for mommy and daddy on Christmas Day,” Woods said.

“And she said, ‘Oh, yes! Yes, I could!’ Suddenly, everything changed. The little girl went from not wanting anything to do with me, to telling me what she was going to draw and how she was going to color it,” Woods said.

These are the precious gifts that Woods receives each year, the stories that don’t fit into a velvet sack because the hearts of children will always be too big.

Rest assured, Woods knows a few things about big hearts.

“My Santa suit was made by my mother and my aunt, probably about six months before my aunt passed away of breast cancer,” he said. “The two of them put it together from an old suit I had purchased from a department store. They took it apart to form a pattern and then they put it back together, better than ever. And I’ve worn it ever since.”

A wistful smile appears as Woods rubs his chin, ever so slowly. The twinkle is the perfect accessory, a beautiful reflection of the jolly old elf and the professor who brings him to life.

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