“I’m boring. I’m just really boring.”
Sally-Ann Donnelly almost sounds convincing as she pulls out a chair, leans back and asks the reporter why he is even bothering with a story on her.
And, sure, if you run three prominent Oamaru hospitality venues and are at the centre of dozens of charity and community ventures and are basically beloved by an entire province, you are DEFINITELY really boring. Yeah, right.
The truth is Sally-Ann – let’s go with that rather than Mrs Donnelly – is something a bit special. Can you imagine Oamaru without Fat Sally’s, Portside and the Loan & Merc, or the Criterion, which she revived before selling the lease this year? Without this extraordinarily generous woman pitching in
to help so many causes?
She doesn’t seek the limelight, and doesn’t like talking about herself, so most of us have no idea of the full extent of her charitable and community work over the past decade, and she would rather keep it to herself.
Why does she spend so much time helping raise money for others?
“I don’t know. I guess I just get a sense of satisfaction out of helping people.”
How many has she helped over the years?
“I’ve got no idea. I don’t keep track.”
She slowly opens up when she reveals she would like to devote more of her week to community activities, but knows there has to be a limit to what she can provide.
“Sometimes I just can’t say yes. I can’t do everything.
“And you do get asked an awful lot. I get something every day.
“It’s hard to say no. There’s a lot of hardship out there, and you want to help people where you can. But you can’t do it all.
“I tend to go for causes or charities or groups, more than individuals.”
Sally-Ann regularly supplies a venue and food or beverages at no cost to the group hosting a function. Even a simple outing can leave her out of pocket – last week, she popped out for lunch, and left $600 worth of vouchers poorer. She had, effectively, been besieged with pleas for support for various
Her reputation as a master fundraiser was sealed two years ago when she helped run the Portside Punch, a charity boxing dinner that raised $120,000 for Oamaru Hospice. She is looking at another big event next year, but isn’t giving much away.
In the meantime, she is flat out running her three businesses. Portside is fighting for its share of an Oamaru restaurant scene that is now bulging, Fat Sally’s – her first love – is still going strong after 12 years, and the Loan & Merc is going great guns as a wedding venue, in particular.
“We’ve got forward bookings up to 2019 for weddings.
“I’ve always loved this building. It’s an amazing place.”
She spends a big part of her week in the kitchen at the Loan & Merc as she does most of the food preparation herself for functions there. (Ironically, a family story recounts her disastrous first attempt at cooking when she made cheese sauce using water instead of milk, and the result was a gluey mess.)
The concept of a 40-hour week means nothing to Sally-Ann. Her mother was overjoyed when she took a holiday earlier this year, and many marvel at the hospitality queen’s ability to get the job done on little sleep and next to no relaxation time.
What keeps her going?
“Hah. I don’t know. You just get on and do it. I just love what I do.”
Husband Kev plays a key support role – “He’s in charge of spuds and gravy when we do big functions” – and son Grant is soon to turn 20.
She is a passionate advocate for Oamaru and the Waitaki district, and is keen to see both flourish. A four-star hotel and a harbour zipline – “It’s crazy. Let’s do it” – are on her wishlist, and she thinks the future is bright.
“Thames St has seen an amazing transformation. Tourist numbers are up. Steampunk has given the town a real kick that it needed.
“I think we’re just about to ride a great big wave, and it’s going to be awesome.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “The passion and enthusiasm she has for this community is humbling. Generous to a fault, Sally-Ann can be found hiding behind the scenes of Waitaki’s most inspirational and enjoyable venues, fundraisers and events.” – Melanie Tavendale