2021 Citizens Awards

Published on 13 October 2021

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Volunteers make the world go round and we are very fortunate to have a fantastic assembly of the kind and willing here in Waitaki, good sorts, people who are never backwards in coming forwards to lend a helping hand. This year’s Citizens Awards recipients, piped into the Oamaru Opera House auditorium by Jonty Nelson, were presented with citations by Waitaki District Councillors and paid tribute for their significant contributions to the community. The event had limited numbers due to social distancing requirements, so a big thank you to the Opera House staff who made this work.

Endlessly generous with their time (and weekends) always going above and beyond, this years recipients have invested in the life of our community, and we are the better for it.

Whether it’s helping newcomers settle in our district, championing buddy English programmes, celebrating cultural diversity or maintaining walking tracks through our unique native forest areas; instigating a programme of predator control that has led to birdlife recovery or unflaggingly responding to 3am callouts at a rural fire station during a career spanning 40 years – and much more besides - they are a wonderful bunch.

2021’s recipients:

Isabel Anderson

For 31 years, Isabel Anderson has been the heart and soul of Daffodil Day in Palmerston - helping to raise vital funds for the Cancer Society, who acknowledged her 30 years of service last year. Now we have the honour of doing the same.

Isabel Anderson has been involved with Daffodil Day from the very beginning. She began fundraising for the Cancer Society in 1989, taking on the role of East Otago Coordinator for Daffodil Day.

A great deal of organising goes into this one day and Isabel steps up willingly each year. The work involves distributing collection buckets and daffodils, running a stall in Palmerston on the day, and then collecting all the buckets and banking the money the following week. She also enlists her family members to help on numerous occasions.

As the scale and popularity of Daffodil Day increased, the area was divided into two area coordinators, and a full roster of volunteers offered to help. Isabel is still very active in all aspects of Daffodil Day, helping with presales, bunching, and deliveries.

Not just a flower power, Isabel has been involved with the local Palmerston Scottish Country Dancing Club. She set up a club in Kurow while living there before moving to Palmerston in 198. She has held the position of President and is currently the Treasurer, helping the members organise their 60th anniversary celebration in May this year.

Isabel has been a volunteer of the Palmerston Waihemo A& P show for many years. She is a Steward in the Hall which entails entries, prizes, displays and helping judges. 

Other groups Isabel has been involved with include Machine Knitters Club for 19 years, Palmerston Primary School - Home and School treasurer, East Otago High School PTA, Palmerston Ladies Friendship Group, Palmerston Promotion Committee, Woodturning Club, Puketapu Radio Shop volunteer, and Netball Coach for the East Otago High School.

As you can see Isabel has put a lot of time and energy into helping our Palmerston Community, and we find it very fitting for her to be recognised with this Citizens Award.

Steve Couper

Steve Couper volunteered for the Duntroon Fire Brigade back in 1979 at the age of 21. At the time he was working for the Ministry of Works, and he thought it would be a good opportunity to meet the locals and integrate into the community.

After five years at Duntroon, Steve joined the Oamaru brigade, where he has been a member ever since. He was appointed Oamaru’s Chief Fire Officer in 2010 and is currently still in this role today.

Steve was awarded his twenty-five-year Gold Star in 2006. He was on the Executive of the Otago Southland Provincial Fire Brigades Assn as secretary for seven years and received the Association “Jewel”.

During his 40 years Steve has attended 1750 musters, been on leave for only 116 days and absent for just nine, giving him a total of 1875 or an average of a 99.58% attendance rate. This doesn’t include the thousands of call outs or community events that Steve has attended.

Steve is still one of the first ‘Firefighters” to respond to the Station even at 3am!! Over the last 12 months. Steve has attended 163 callouts making him one of the top attendees. His position of Chief Fire Officer along with the other members of the Brigade is 100% volunteer.

Steve worked for the Waitaki District Council as the Deputy Principal Rural Fire officer and in the Civil Defense office for 21 years.

He was a founding member of the Waitaki Rural Fire Force completing 22 years’ service and was made a Life Member of the unit.

He is married to a very understanding wife Heather, and they have three grown up children and five very special grandchildren together.

Other groups Steve has been involved with include the North Otago Hockey, as a player – coach – manager – and referee and is currently still a member of the Turf Trust.

Steve’s contribution to the community has been nothing short of outstanding, and his continuing service as the Chief Fire Officer for the Oamaru Volunteer Fire Brigade is well deserving of this Citizens Award. We thank you Steve.

Christine Dorsey

Christine Dorsey’s commitment to the wellbeing of newcomers to the Waitaki district goes above and beyond the 9-5. 

She is the initiator, organiser, and host of nearly every activity and event that the Multicultural Council organises under the banner of the Newcomers Network and Migrant Support Services. Tireless and endlessly generous with her time (and weekends) she invests her all to better the lives of the new residents in our community. One wonders if she has a private life at all putting other families first, but she has, and her husband and two daughters are very community active too, and very understanding. 

Over 800 families have received help settling into our district, be it by helping with migrant and visa related administration and support, connecting people over coffee chats, helping migrants to brush up their English through a buddy English tuition and chat group, running a book club, organising IELTS sessions, setting up new activities such as ‘Knit and Knatter’ connecting local women with migrants through crafts at the library, make sure migrants find their way around the education system and creating women’s health events - to name a few of the many events and services Christine coordinates in addition to sending out a very informative weekly e-newsletter. 

Culturally cosmopolitan, with a wide knowledge of traditions and heritage, this is reflected in her prowess when it comes to juggling the needs of different ethnic, cultural, and faith-based support and when she organises events that embrace the celebration of cultural diversity in our community.

Christine Dorsey is always available to help the newcomers with their numerous enquiries, has grown the newcomers Facebook page to 750 followers, and is proudly present at the Council Citizenship Ceremonies. She is the heart of the community for many new residents and a very big reason why so many families have managed to make a home in Waitaki. 

Christine helps them to get involved in the community through her wide range of activities and events. She has extensive knowledge of the best contacts and resources to tap into to connect a newcomer/migrant to the people, services, and information in our district. We do not know how she finds the time, but recently she helped initiate and now Chairs the Waitaki Local Settlement Network, the most recent new working group of Safer Waitaki. 

Christine is well-known and highly respected in our community; she is a very modest person that will not put herself in the spotlight but behind the scenes she is busy passionately problem-solving the things most things newcomers/migrants have to deal with when arriving in our district. She deserves to be recognised for her substantial service well beyond her normal 20-hours paid employment and celebrated as one of Waitaki’s icons and our district should be incredibly proud and privileged to have her!

Patricia Gunn

Pat joined Musical Theatre Oamaru (formerly Oamaru Operatic Society) in 2004 for the production of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing keyboard in the orchestra. Since then, she has been in just about every role possible in theatre, apart from the one that everyone sees - on stage. 

After a stint as Choral Mistress in 2005 she joined the committee in 2006 and has been a solid member ever since. Pat was President for a period of four years and since stepping down in 2013, has been a member on committee and held the role of Secretary from 2015 until this year. 

In 2013 Musical Theatre Oamaru produced its first Children’s Theatre production and Pat led the way from beginning to end. She approached the schools and found all the kids required for the show. She then wrote the entire show to suit the kids involved. She gathered her team for behind the scenes and produced the show. She has done this now for 9 years running.

Each year Pat has taken a group of kids, with varying abilities, and taught them theatre. She has educated them, she has shown them how to perform, and she has taught them how to have respect for both their fellow cast members, and the crew involved. Pat has directed them (and occasionally yelled at them!), sat side of stage to get them on when they have suffered stage fright, and been there to congratulate them on a job well done. If someone can’t remember a line, Pat will help them learn it. If someone can’t get to rehearsal, she will pick them up. 

Over the years Pat has called on her past cast members that have graduated from children's theatre to come back and help behind the scenes, running sound, lights, props and even stage manager - all of whom have been more than willing to come back and learn more theatre skills. This is a true testament to the work Pat puts in developing her team.

As with all theatre shows, the work done backstage and behind the scenes is never seen by the general public. The hours it takes to write a script. The time it takes to plot the lighting to make sure each and every person gets their time in the spotlight. And there is no point seeing a show if you can’t hear it - fine tuning the sound so the audience can hear the correct mix of music and voices is also part of what Pat has done.

Then there’s the time spent hunting around town to find the correct props, making the props if they can’t be found (it is amazing what a cardboard box can turn into!), sorting out copious amounts of costumes, applying for rights for the music, changing the music when certain rights are not available, and writing funding applications to keep the children’s theatre shows affordable for all members of the public to watch. There is nothing that Pat has not done.  While we don't believe it has ever been officially counted, her hours of service to our Children's Theatre would easily surpass 10,000.

Pat has taken Musical Theatre Oamaru’s Children Productions, from the small, self-written inaugural show of Superwolf to the Rescue to this year’s production of the musical classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - complete with a car on stage!

Theatre encourages creativity, culture, communication, patience, morals and imagination, Pat has been an influence on each and every child that has come through the Children’s Theatre in the past 9 years. 

The Waitaki District have been very fortunate to have a superstar like Pat and is very well cast for this Citizens Award. Congratulations Pat.

Heather McElroy

Heather McElroy is truly someone who ‘walks the talk, having volunteered with Age Concern in Otago and Waitaki for over 20 years now, mostly in proactive Leadership-type roles including as a committee member and Chair.

As a committee member/Chair of Age Concern Waitaki she led the initiative to reconstitute Age Concern Waitaki under the Age Concern Otago umbrella. This has resulted in a far greater level of supports in place for Waitaki, in terms of both funding and other resources, including support to extend Age Concern’s services beyond Oamaru into other parts of the district, both social connections and health promotion programmes, including Elder Abuse Response services.

She has spent years running the very popular afternoon tea and chat at the Age Concerns weekly Gently Exercise classes. These originally started at the Early Settlers Hall, but demand was so great that a bigger premises was needed, so it was then on to the RSA Building, then to the Orwell Street Church Hall where they are today. 

Heather also runs the weekly board game activities previously known as “Golden Oldies” and helped launch the new iteration of this activity, with Board Games on Wednesdays at the Oamaru Library. In October 2020 Heather was named Age Concern New Zealand Dignity Champion of the Month. In a district with a large and vibrant population of retirees, she is someone who makes a real contribution to the community.

Heather has also been a perfect fit for volunteering at the Oamaru Food Bank, bringing a calm and steady demeanour, kindness, and a mindfulness of people’s individual situations. 

Heather’s contribution doesn’t stop there she has been a member of the North Otago Lions Club for 25 years and is now currently a member of the Pakeke Lions Club. Heather was president with Lions when the first Toot for Tucker started in Oamaru and this fundraiser is still going strong today.

Other organisations Heather has been involved with included the Asthma Society, Senior Net president – teaching Seniors to be technology savvy and the Red Haters society.

Always ready to be there for others, Heather has been described as “A superstar volunteer, generous with her time and has a great sense of humour”. 

Congratulations Heather and many thanks for all your contribution to the many organisations you have been involved with in our Community you really are a rockstar.

Gay Mills

Since moving to Palmerston 38 years ago Gay Mills has been involved with numerous community organisations wherever volunteers are needed. A model for service and leadership, she has worked in the local hospitality industry for a number of years and is married with three children and three grandchildren.

Gay has dedicated her life to community activity, effectively and consistently. She has been a driver and fundraiser for a large number of community organisations. Her ability to present practical and sensible ideas, and follow those ideas through, have been a bonus for the community. Her contribution has been successful because of her notable leadership skills.

As a Lion Gay has epitomised the aim of Lion’s International: “we serve”. She was a founding member of the East Otago District Lions since 1992, she held president and secretary positions for several years, due to declining membership the club was closed in 2018 and Gay transferred to Palmerston Lions Club where she continues to support a raft of projects in a diligent and constructive manner. Her work for Lions alone warrants recognition at a top level.

Gay is a Life member of the Palmerston/Waihemo A&P Society, she spent 12 years as convenor of the hall which involved preparing schedules arranging for people to judge each section, organising stewards to accept entries on the day with trophies or certificates ready after judging and arranging catering.

She has been available for schools in the district across a range of activities, including parental representations, fundraising, reading to the junior classes and special events. Gay has been willing and able across a wide range of duties and projects.

Gay’s commitments continue with being on committees of Palmerston Garden Circle, Palmerston Camera Club, Gateway to Gold, which is now Puketapu Community Trust, Hall Committee, Radio Station, Health Fundraisers and Girl Guides.

Gay is a respected member of the community and is very worthy of a Citizens Award, due to her outstanding voluntary achievements in Waihemo Community. Truly, a top community person over many decades.

Faye Ormandy

Faye Ormandy was the former Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust Heritage Co-ordinator for 15 years, in a paid role and volunteer. Oamaru’s being able to celebrate its global status as a town of heritage attractions owes a great deal to Faye and the hours, she has put into championing the Victorian Precinct, making it the great community asset and icon that it is today. 

The dedication Faye has given the above organisation is insurmountable, as is her hard work with helping organise many an event that was happening in the Precinct. Faye was a key part of the heritage ambassadors that met the bus tours week after week and the 100s of school visits and visitors that toured the Precinct. A born diplomat, she handled the various views around the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust Board table extremely well and retained the confidence of all. Faye had great organisational skills, especially around the Network Waitaki Victorian Fete, pulling this event together year after year with minimum fuss. 

Her other passion is Vanished World Centre in Duntroon, when in 2017 she joined the Geopark Steering Group and with her governance and management experience she was an obvious candidate because of her work over many years with the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust. The purpose of this group was to explore the possibility of creating a Waitaki Geopark with Vanished World at its core.

Faye with her experience was an obvious candidate to join the Geopark Steering Group, having grown up in the Duntroon community, she knew many of the locals and was keen to get involved. It was not long before she was co-opted onto the Vanished World Committee, she took on the role of treasurer for the two years and is now in the Chairwomen’s role. She is one of those people who sees a need and steps up to the challenge.

Vanished World celebrated its Twentieth Anniversary last year and needless to say Faye planned the Anniversary Celebrations which included all the key personnel who have worked over the years. Everyone felt included and really appreciated. This event epitomises her own contribution to community and her ability to recognise and celebrate the contributions of others.

Currently Faye not only leads the governance of Vanished World but plays an active role in management and is regularly ‘on duty’ at the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon. 

Faye’s other recent involvements have included secretary and a Board member of the Waitaki Tourism Association, and she volunteered to help to reopen Whitestone City. She is also currently the Waitaki Power Trust Secretary in a paid role and has been since 2002. 

She remembers back to when she was living in Albury in NSW as a young Mum and being asked to train as a leader for a parent organisation and door knocking to get Albury’s first woman councillor elected. Her children played ‘going to meetings’ not ‘shops’ when they were little!  Returning to the Waitaki District and involvement with the Kakanui Community Care group and the skills learned through Waitaki Communicators gave her the confidence to put her hand up for other roles.

Although she is being recognised with this award, Faye says none of what she does could be done without the help and support of everyone else in these organisations and feels privileged to have worked with some amazing people and on some amazing projects. 

Faye with her husband Graeme is now retired in Oamaru, they have three adult children and seven grandchildren. Faye has come from a family of volunteers which is in her DNA. She has been described as very loyal, supportive, dependable, and diplomatic! Faye, Thank you for your continued contribution to the Waitaki Community and making this place richer for your service.


Robbie Verhoef

All creatures great and small owe Robbie Verhoef a debt of thanks. A prominent member of the North Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club for the last 26 years, his passion, enthusiasm, and leadership, has inspired many to engage in tramping and conservation. The Club has for some fifteen years maintained the walking tracks through the unique native forest areas of the Herbert Forest, owned by company Port Blakely. Robbie has played a leading role in organising materials and working bees for improving and maintaining these tracks, providing a unique opportunity in the district to combine walking with experiencing mature podocarp forest.

In 2015, Robbie, working with Port Blakely, started a programme to control predators that were severely damaging the forest’s bird population. He managed the club’s participation in the implementation of this programme and has taken responsibility for management of the trap lines, often clearing and rebaiting the traps on his own. The resulting destruction of rats, stoats and possums has led to a marked recovery in birdlife and consequent birdsong and contributed to the maintenance of the forest’s conservation values.

The Health, Safety and Environmental Manager of Port Blakely praised Robbie’s contribution as follows: 

Robbie has led the pest control and track maintenance in our Herbert Forest since 2015. He completes regular trap checks, pest monitoring and track maintenance, all year round and is a key stakeholder in the success of the Herbert podocarp tracks. Robbie has also hosted many community events in the forest and is always volunteering to lend a hand with any threatened species programs or work we are completing, his passion and enthusiasm for the environment is inspiring to say the least. 

Robbie insists on doing this work in a voluntary capacity, a true showing of his love for the community he lives in and the environmental values of the area. It is a privilege to work alongside Robbie, he is one of the most passionate and community-focused people I know, and we are very lucky his enthusiasm and environmental work is benefiting everyone who visits the Herbert Forest walking tracks. 

For the last three years, Robbie has also been a mainstay of Penguin Rescue Moeraki, of which he is co-leader. Among his contributions, he has built a hospital for sick and injured hoiho, personally saved many birds, and spread the message of the society’s work through school visits.

In addition to these and his own outdoor activities, Robbie is also active in a local sub-group of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of NZ, which provides support to families of people with neuro-muscular conditions. 

Robbie’s contribution and dedication to the environment and making Waitaki a better place has been outstanding. The community has been enriched for your passion and your service, congratulations on this Citizens Award!

Waitaki Multicultural Council

The Waitaki Multicultural Council has been a hero in our district for more than 12 years. Together with the Newcomers Network, they are a beacon of inclusion in a district that is becoming more diverse every day.

Newcomers to Waitaki are made to feel included and this impacts on everyone they welcome – no matter where they are from, how or why they came to our special part of the world or how long they stay here. This ethos translates into how we feel about ourselves as a community and makes all Waitakians feel proud to live in such an open-armed district.

Overtime Waitaki Multicultural Council has delivered untold community benefits through a host of activities and celebrations. They run several regular opportunities for people to meet independently while steadfastly supporting every local initiative that supports inclusion. 

Some of the regular groups they provide are • English classes • English buddy programme • IELTS (English Language Test) Classes • English Conversation Club • CV workshops • Knit and Natter • Migrant Meet and Share • Women Connect • Walking Group • Cooking Classes • Coffee Group • Visits and Tours.

Some of their significant events they have organise include • Matariki Shared Dinner • Christmas Potluck • Race Relations Day Picnic • Women's Hui.

Some of the day to day support they provide include • Administration and regulatory support including through Covid-19 Lockdown • Advocacy and communication around immigration regulations • Liaison with businesses to support workers and business owners alike • Everyday support for migrants and the people with whom they live, work and play – from schools to our library, from work to finding a place to live, as well as their monthly meetings.

The Waitaki Multicultural Council gently leads our community to a place where differences are tolerated, accepted and celebrated - and I think we can all feel super proud of their impact. 

Because their focus is one of inclusion, the Waitaki Multicultural Council should be celebrated as a whole rather than as individuals, as a voluntary organisation the Waitaki Multicultural Council are very deserving of this Waitaki Citizen Award. 

Please join us in our gratitude and congratulations.