Giving time . Heather McElroy was one of eight people to receive a Waitaki Citizens Award this year. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Heather McElroy was one of eight people recognised with a Waitaki Citizens Award this year. She chats to Ruby Heyward about her volunteer work for Age Concern Otago and many other organisations.

Heather McElroy admits she’s ‘‘the sort of person who can’t say no’’. Which is probably why she has dedicated so many years to volunteering with Age Concern Otago and many other organisations.

That, and because Mrs McElroy wanted to.

Born and bred in Invercargill, Mrs McElroy has experienced both big-city living and small-town life.

She and her former husband had a stint in Alexandra, before moving to Auckland where they lived for 15 years.

They then moved to Hanmer Springs and ran a holiday park for a couple of years before going their separate ways.

With two older sons, Steve and Greg, having already flown the coop, Mrs McElroy and her 13-year old twins, Chris and Tod, moved to Oamaru where her mother, Mary McLeod, lived.

When they first arrived in Oamaru ‘‘42-odd years ago’’, Mrs McElroy did a few ‘‘bits and pieces’’ before spending many years working for Oamaru’s IHC.

It was a busy and stressful job, and the drive that kept her going through those stressful times was very hard to shut off.

As retirement approached, Mrs McElroy decided to be proactive.

She felt that it was unhealthy to retire and just do nothing — even staying home for two days on end had Mrs McElroy going ‘‘stir crazy’’.

In preparation for retirement, she joined the North Otago Lions Club and was involved for 25 years. She was also a member of the Oamaru Pakeke Lions Club.

During her first year as North Otago Lions Club president, Mrs McElroy was in charge of launching the Toot for Tucker foodbank fundraiser for the Oamaru Churches Food Bank.

Twenty years later, the event was still running, only Mrs McElroy now volunteers at the Oamaru Churches Food Bank.

She was a ‘‘great believer’’ in the food bank’s services, and started volunteering as a host 10 years ago. Her main job was to greet people and put them at ease — especially for those who felt embarrassed using the service.

‘‘It’s not easy asking for help,’’ she said.

Soon after retiring, Mrs McElroy joined Age Concern, having seen the struggles her elderly mother had experienced.

‘‘I believed in what Age Concern was doing,’’ she said.

‘‘It has grown in the last couple of years.’’

And she had a great role in that growth.

She was instrumental in Age Concern Waitaki’s reconstitution under the Age Concern Otago umbrella.

Since then, the Waitaki section of the organisation has been governed by Otago, leaving the Waitaki volunteers more time to focus on the hands-on work, she said.

It also meant more services were channelled into the area, such as a day trips in the van and Elder Abuse Response services.

Over the years, she helped introduce many activities to the organisation, such as its popular gentle exercise group and board game sessions.

Ever the volunteer, Mrs McElroy also kept herself busy by spending five or six years with Senior Net, a group in which ‘‘oldies’’ helped each other learn how to use a computer.

Peers teaching peers worked fantastically because it felt more comfortable, she said.
She used her computer skills to publish an Age Concern newsletter for 14 years.

Mrs McElroy also spent many years volunteering with the North Otago Asthma Society and Oamaru’s Red Hatters.

The latter was a lot of fun, she said.

‘‘It makes people smile.

‘‘They look at us and say ‘silly old buggars’.’’

After many years helping improve the lives of others through Age Concern, Mrs McElroy has gone from providing its services to utilising them.

And if anyone was deserving of putting their feet up, it was Mrs McElroy.