In 2015 fourteen awards were presented honouring the extraordinary contribution of inspirational older Victorians during an award ceremony at Government House.
Read on for biographies of each of the award winners.
Premier’s Award for Victorian Senior of the Year
Peter Hopper of Bright
Peter Hopper is an extraordinary role model. He is a tireless advocate for older people in Bright and the Alpine region, and he also advocates for people living with a disability or who may be marginalised due to their ethnicity or cultural background.
When several families of the minority ethnic Chin people from Myanmar were resettled in Bright, Peter Hopper rose to the occasion to help them find their feet in Australian society, visiting them at home and using his skills as an educator to teach them English.
Peter’s compassion, commitment and his willingness to volunteer his own time to teach improved the lives of these refugees enormously, helping them to thrive in their new home.
This is just one example of Peter’s generosity in caring for people in the areas of aged care, health and social justice.
Peter has been a member of the Alpine-Bright Community and Health Advisory Group for over 12 years, and chairperson for 8 years. In this role he has been a vital link between health services and the community, contributing to a range of health and aged care services and projects.
Peter is the driving force behind the Alpine Aged Care Advocacy Service, providing face-to-face advocacy, support and information for older people, helping them to remain independent and in control of their lives.
Peter also works with Aboriginal young people from the Wadeye community in the Northern Territory who come to Bright P-12 College as part of a program to improve their lives through education.
In addition to his impressive volunteer activity, Peter finds the time to remain an active member of the Bright Historical Society, Probus, the Bridge Club and Senior Citizens Club.
Peter Hopper is passionate about supporting the people in his community. He is an inspirational champion for health, welfare, disability access, cultural responsiveness and social justice.
Veteran Community Award
Lynette Denbesten of Highton
For the ex-service members and their families of the Geelong region, Lyn Denbesten and her therapy dog Oscar are a frequent sight on visits to hospitals and residential aged care facilities. The pair add a spark of life and fun to the day, and help to open communication lines to people who might otherwise miss out on social and emotional support.
Lyn and Oscar give our veterans and war widows someone to confide in, share tears with and relieve troubles. In fact, patients and their families often feel so comfortable with Lynette that they tell her things quite easily – which means issues can be addressed quickly and with sensitivity.
Lyn’s own story as the wife of a veteran gives her an emotional connection with the people she visits, and she never seems to set a limit on the amount of time she is willing to give. In addition to this work, she volunteers for the RSL and has been a member of the Geelong and District Vietnam Veterans Association for many years.
Lyn is a wonderful example of a generous spirit who gives selflessly just for the sake of helping and spending time with other people. She has not let her senior years slow her down – and in fact she is doing more and more to ensure she makes every day count.
Lynette Denbesten’s determination to let our veterans and war widows know that they have not been forgotten is an inspirational example of someone who is ageing well by helping others.
Promotion of Multiculturalism Award
Ayten Emin of Kings Park
Ayten Emin is famous in the Turkish Cypriot community of Brimbank, both for her cooking skills and her selfless dedication to others. She is a vibrant and active community leader who is always looking for ways to help people fit in and gain new knowledge and experience.
Ayten came to Australia in 1973, so she knows firsthand how hard it is to start life in a new place with few family members around. She has had an interesting career, operating forklifts, bobcats and cranes.
Ayten now puts this knack for machinery to use driving the minibus that brings older members of the community to and from meetings and events at the Migrant Resource Centre North West Region. She has volunteered at the centre for over 12 years, and she is always on hand to recruit volunteers and promote the centre’s work.
Ayten takes the time to find out about the people who use the centre, so she can make sure their needs are met in the best way possible. She also runs the Cypriot Turkish Elderly Women’s Group, which supports older people to remain connected with each other and their friends from the Turkish community.
As a result of Ayten’s hard work and dedication, many people now know who and where to turn when they face problems.
Ayten Emin’s selfless, caring actions ensure that older members of the community are looked after – physically and emotionally. She is an inspirational role model who proves that positive ageing is all about what you give to others.
Healthy and Active Living Award
Moira Axtens of Doncaster
Moira Axtens is well known for her formidable physical fitness and prowess. In 2006, she won a gold medal at the World Masters Games in Melbourne in the 50+ women’s tennis doubles – when she and her partner were over 60.
But it’s Moira’s volunteer work to improve the health and fitness of older people in her community that really sets her apart and makes a positive difference to the lives of others.
Originally from Scotland, Moira trained as a physical education teacher, and later migrated to Australia to take up a lecturing position at Victoria College, Burwood to teach others. For many years, she has put these skills to good use taking exercise classes and training fitness class leaders through the Manningham U3A (University of the Third Age).
Moira also volunteers at Epworth Eastern Hospital, running pre-operative exercise classes for people about to undergo hip or knee replacements, and she is an active member of Probus. Her energy and passion have ensured that exercise and resistance training programs are now helping older people in her community to maintain healthy bodies and minds, and live active lives.
Many of the people who attend Moira’s classes are years younger than she is – but in seeing the way she overcomes her own health issues, they realise that they too can improve their fitness and flexibility. Moira Axtens is an inspirational role model, and an excellent ambassador for the benefits of fitness and strength training for older people.
Council on the Ageing Senior Achiever Award winners
Kenneth Cumming of Warrnambool
Ken Cumming’s friends and neighbours describe him as a people person and a good listener.
In his role as a hospital visitor, Ken has devoted time to caring for others and making sure sick ex-service members and their families have the support they need. While Ken has his own health problems as a result of his service in Vietnam, he inspires others with his positive attitude and willingness to help.
An enthusiastic and energetic member of the Warrnambool RSL, Ken has raised thousands of dollars for people in need. In 2012, Ken was awarded life membership of the RSL – a worthy testament to his selflessness and passion for helping others.
With his eagerness to help others, as well as share the bounty of his vegie garden, it’s no surprise that Ken Cumming is renowned for his contribution to his community.
Jenny Steele of Lockwood
For over a decade, Jenny has been a passionate and inspirational advocate for people with a mental illness and their carers in the Bendigo community.
Also enthusiastic about conservation and wildlife rescue, Jenny is an active member of Landcare and Land for Wildlife – providing not only her own time and expertise, but a portion of her land to protect an endangered species of curlew.
A dedicated volunteer with Bendigo Psychiatric Services and Bendigo Health Carer Support Services, Jenny has helped countless carers receive the support they need when providing care for someone who is recovering from a mental illness. She is also the driving force behind a bi-annual conference for rural carers of people with a mental illness.
Jenny Steele’s compassion and energy inspire all who meet her, and she is a role model for ageing well, at any age.
David Hall of Daylesford
David Hall’s determination to contribute to and improve his community has made him much loved and respected in the Daylesford and Hepburn Springs region.
Over many years, David has turned his energy to a range of community initiatives. He founded Words in Winter, an annual celebration of the written and spoken word, now in its 15th year, and he helped establish the University of the Third Age (U3A) Hepburn Shire more than 10 years ago.
He was instrumental in establishing the local community bank. Local residents say that without his persistence and attention to detail, their dream of a community bank would not have come to fruition.
David Hall’s charm and caring manner have inspired many. His positive attitude to retirement and serving others is exemplary in his local community.
Roy Alexander of Brookfield
Roy Alexander is a proud and respected Aboriginal elder of the Yorta Yorta people. Uncle Roy has devoted many years to helping people, becoming a role model and mentor to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
Every Thursday Roy can be found packing boxes for Aboriginal elders who would otherwise go without food, as part of a local council program. In 2015, he was named City of Maribyrnong’s Citizen of the Year for his service to others.
One of Uncle Roy’s many passions in life is encouraging young people to reach their potential. As a member of the Regional Aboriginal Justice Committee, he works with young offenders to help them find positives in their cultural identity.
Roy also coaches at the Western Storm Reclink football team – they have named their annual award for best and fairest in his honour.
Uncle Roy he is a much loved figure who inspires young and old with his positive ageing.
Betty Burgess of Pascoe Vale
Betty Burgess makes a difference to her community through hands-on volunteer work. She is a living example of how volunteer services provide a better quality of life for all people.
An active and vital member of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) for over 30 years, Betty has given tirelessly to others through catering, fundraising, planning for the future, mentoring, empowering others to volunteer and encouraging self-development.
Betty has held many positions within the CWA, and in 2012 the entire state membership voted her a Member of Honour, the highest award of the CWA in Victoria.
As a long standing and highly respected volunteer who has chosen to give her time, energy and skills to something that matters to her deeply and passionately, Betty Burgess is a rich source of inspiration for those who want to make a positive difference in the world.
Alex Arbuthnot AM of Nambrok
As a volunteer member of over ten boards and agencies, Alex Arbuthnot often spends his weeks travelling across Victoria attending meetings and events. On the weekends, though, Alex still pulls on the boots to work on the family dairy farm.
For many years, Alex has been a vital part of Landcare Australia, helping to foster and grow the organization to become a major national movement.
Alex was instrumental in establishing the Victorian Agribusiness Council, and thanks to his leadership Agribusiness Gippsland has grown from a fledgling group of less than 100 supporters to a peak industry body with nearly 10,000 stakeholders. He also helps with the important work of the Victorian Blackberry Taskforce, which researches biological controls for this invasive weed.
Alex Arbuthnot has extended his success and knowledge of managing a family farm, to a broader engagement in society to help others and change things for the better.
Masha Zeleznikow OAM of Caulfield South
Many years ago, Masha Zeleznikow realised there was need to support the disadvantaged and isolated within the Russian Jewish community in Melbourne.
She tackled the issues head on, founding the Tuesday Club to help overcome social isolation among Russian and other European migrants, including many Holocaust survivors. Many years later, the Tuesday Club is still going strong under Masha’s guidance, bringing people together to enjoy great food, guest speakers and each other’s company.
Even Cafe Scheherazade, the café Masha and her late husband ran for many years, became a home away from home for Russian Jewish immigrants.
Masha has helped migrants find work and accommodation, and to overcome language and cultural barriers. She has been a volunteer with Jewish Care for over 27 years.
Masha’s stamina, drive and commitment are unrelenting, and she is a great role model for overcoming disadvantage and isolation.
John Doutch of Berwick
John Doutch is a passionate and engaged volunteer at Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, contributing statewide as a facilitator, trainer, leader, mentor and communicator. He sees volunteering as an integral part of ageing positively.
John’s pioneering initiative, Older Men: New Ideas (OM:NI), gives older men across Victoria the opportunity to come together for support and to talk about the things that matter to them.
He also volunteers in his local community to improve the wellbeing of older residents. Last year he was awarded the City of Casey Senior Citizens Award. John is dedicated to inspiring and educating local older residents and has facilitated hundreds of sessions for community groups, including multicultural groups, on healthy and active ageing.
John Doutch’s positive attitude to ageing and his communication skills make a real difference in others’ lives.
Josephine Simsa of Middle Park
Josephine Simsa has used her many years as an aid worker with refugees to bring a community-development approach to her variety of voluntary roles.
Josephine has made a huge contribution to her local community through her work with the University of the Third Age (U3A) Port Phillip, the Community Participation Committee of the Inner South Community Health Service, and the steering group of the National Campaign for Consumer-Centred Health Care.
On three occasions, Josephine has been involved with Indigenous Community Volunteers, working with remote Aboriginal communities on the journey to self-determination and empowerment.
Josephine was instrumental in establishing the Melbourne Ports branch of Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, helping this fledgling grassroots group with their message: children do not belong in detention.
Through her words and actions, Josephine Simsa involves and inspires people of all ages to engage with issues and achieve change though positive and affirmative actions.
Susan Chow of Fitzroy
For more than fifteen years Susan Chow has worked tirelessly and selflessly to serve the Chinese community and the wider community within the City of Yarra.
As President of the Fitzroy Chinese Women’s Association Susan has created a friendly environment where older women meet for food, fun and healthy exercise, and to celebrate what life in Yarra has to offer. Her work with this group has helped keep traditional Chinese values alive in an Australian context.
Susan Chow exemplifies how service to others builds strong foundations of community, happiness and mutual respect. Her passion for bringing people together to celebrate Chinese and Australian culture is legendary, and her advocacy for older women in particular has given her enormous stature in the community.