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Volunteer honoured for decades-long service to the community

Cancer Society volunteer, Simon Genet, has been awarded the Rotary Paul Harris Fellowship for 21 years’ service to the community.

Simon, who grew up in the Netherlands with dreams of one day having his own dairy farm, is today an incredibly valued volunteer at the Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge who knows first-hand the difficulty of a cancer diagnosis.

Simon grew up in a small village where the family business consisted of bulb growing.  However, when some of the land became unsuitable for planting, Simon was tasked with looking after the family’s five cows.

“I was more interested in dairy farming than bulb growing,” says Simon. “Every year, we had a big flower show and one time there was a big stand from New Zealand. It was most impressive. I thought ‘That’s where I want to go’. And so I did.”

Simon left the Netherlands in 1961, moving around the world to follow his dreams alongside his young child and pregnant wife. Simon was 25 at the time, eager to start work on a farm. However, language was a barrier – he could only speak Dutch, and an uncommon dialect at that.

“When I decided to emigrate, I went to the local library and asked for an English book. She gave me Shakespeare! It wasn’t much help.

“So I returned it and she gave me a book of nursery rhymes. That was quite interesting. I read about how Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

“We arrived in New Zealand on the Thursday and I started work on the Monday. I was to mix concrete. I was introduced to the chap I was working with. When we came to the concrete mixer he said ‘grab that bucket.’ And he pointed to a thing that I was sure was a pail. So I stood there, I didn’t know what to do!”

Simon moved on from concrete mixing after a year and began working on a dairy farm, living just outside of Pukekohe.

Then he was diagnosed with cancer in 1994.

“I had cancer in my mouth and had my upper lip and gum removed. They used some of the top of my head. Then in 2000, my wife had breast cancer. I took her to treatment every day when she needed it. And if not, then one of our neighbours would do it, especially if it was during milking time.

“It was a half an hour drive. Then we’d be in the waiting room and I’d read pamphlets about the Cancer Society. I thought that might be something for me.”

Simon's many name badges over the years
Simon's many name badges over the years
Simon's many name badges over the years

Simon sold the farm in 2002 and went overseas for several months. On his return, he became a Cancer Society volunteer driver. This role soon morphed into helping with the monthly newspaper from the volunteers. Then he started helping at the Lodge (then at Waikato Hospital), helping guests to their rooms and doing the washing.

“It is something to do. I enjoy it, especially the driving as it is such a relief for people not to go into the parking building. We were always there, always on time.”

When asked about the Rotary nomination, Simon admits he feels a bit embarrassed by all the fuss.

But Jan White, President of the Frankton Te Rapa Rotary Club, says Simon deserves recognition for his extraordinary continued contribution.

“I knew that he’d done years and years of various types of voluntary work for the Lodge, right back to when it was up at the Waikato Hospital. And he just quietly still goes about doing it” says Jan.

Jan is an advocate for the well-being and value of older people and witnesses Simon in action every Friday at the Lodge, where they both volunteer. His current role, which involves preparing the building for the weekend guests, is vital and he is a much-treasured member of the Lodge team.

Simon will be honoured alongside other recipients of the award in Hamilton this Sunday.

Jan White and Simon Genet.
Jan White and Simon Genet.
Jan White and Simon Genet.