Victorian Senior of the Year Awards Official photo

The Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau, Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley, and Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour (rear, middle) with the 2017 Victorian Seniors of the Year Award recipients.

The Victorian Senior of the Year Awards acknowledge seniors who volunteer to assist, support and encourage others in their communities. It also recognises community organisations or businesses that create age-friendly environments through inclusion and active aging.

Fourteen men and women and one organisation were honoured at a Government House ceremony on 10 October.

Premier’s Award for Victorian Senior of the Year

Outstanding contribution to local community and Victoria.

Roy Francis, Mornington

Roy Francais

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, Roy subsequently:

  • became the first Prostate Awareness volunteer ambassador appointed by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia
  • formed the Mornington Peninsula prostate cancer support group
  • appointed Frankston Council’s bowel cancer community champion
  • became the first volunteer ambassador appointed by the National Stroke Foundation
  • became a beyondblue ambassador

Roy travels throughout  Victoria promoting cancer awareness and other health issues. To date he has made more than 750 presentations.

Roy is also very active elsewhere in his local community, volunteering at various sporting and active living groups, service clubs and community centres. These include the Mornington National Seniors group, Mornington Croquet Cub and the Balnarring Picnic Racing Club.

“It’s very satisfying to do something for other people, to use my past experiences to help others. I really enjoy doing what I’m doing,” Roy says.

“I’d like to think I’m making a difference. I’ve had people tell me I saved their life.

“There are so many things you can do as a senior. Just to be a small part of society is a wonderful thing. If you are able you should use your past experiences to help others.

“I feel very honoured to receive this award. There are so many seniors doing wonderful things. The support from the staff is sensational. I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife.” 

Promotion of Multiculturalism Award

Significant contribution to promoting the benefits of cultural diversity in local or broader community.

Marcello D’Amico, Watsonia

Marcello DAmico 

Marcello is a musician, artist and writer who, with wife Pauline, actively promotes the benefits of multiculturalism by performing the music of the Mediterranean for community organisations, cultural groups, seniors organisations and aged care facilities.

Marcello served on the board of Multicultural Arts Victoria for 20 years and is the voluntary coordinator of the Italian Pensioners Federation of Victoria.

“Multiculturalism has given us immigrants a voice,” Marcello says.

“I find when I play music it brings back the past. When Pauline and I play people join in singing and it brings back happy memories.  It allows us to forget our problems and focus on happy memories.

“You share life  with people, seeing older people get up and dance in their 90s - there is no price for that.

“I have been volunteering all my life. I don’t give pleasure to them, they give pleasure to me.  Sharing special moments are priceless.”

Healthy and Active Living Award

Helping to create active and healthy communities through community involvement and being a role model.

Barry Witmitz, Kaniva

Barry Witmitz

Barry, or ‘Butch’ as he’s known, provides strong leadership in many local activities, particularly those associated with helping people to remain active and engaged in their community. He believes this fosters a healthier and more connected lifestyle.

Butch is also president of the Kaniva Men’s Shed and local footy club, but these are just two of the many local organisations he is involved with.

“Volunteers keep the community as a community,” he says.  “If you don’t have community organisations you don’t have a town.

“I help people who can’t do things for themselves. If you have volunteers you can get more things done and keep your community going. For example, I helped a lady by pulling out some weeds, she was so happy and wanted to pay me.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people. It gives me a purpose to get out of bed.

“I feel very honoured to receive this award, to think people have appreciated what I have done, but I don’t expect it.  I felt a little embarrassed because I don’t do it for reward.”

Veteran Community Award

Exceptional contribution to the veteran community.

Roger Boness, Mt Evelyn

Roger Boness 

Roger was conscripted for national service in 1966 and saw active service in Vietnam. When he retired in 2008 he became president of the Mt Evelyn RSL. Since then Roger has  actively improved the wellbeing of older and retired RSL members, including being a first-response person in times of need. Roger is also the means by which many veterans stay in touch with other members.

Roger has brought the Mt Evelyn RSL into the heart of the local community by establishing successful partnerships across a range of activities and generational divides. In doing so he has helped young people appreciate the service and sacrifices made by older generations.

“Every community needs to have a vibrant RSL,” Roger says.

“We help people by putting in ramp railing on stairs, helping with shopping, hospitals, garden maintenance, etc.

“We try and keep people active, so they don’t sit at home and get depressed. We go to their homes and get them to be part of our community. We visit our members in nursing homes, too.

“I am flabbergasted, honoured and humbled to receive this award. We don’t look for accolades we just get out there and do things. I’m embarrassed, to be honest.” 

Age-Friendly Victoria Award

Organisation that creates age-friendly communities and promotes active ageing and improving quality of life and inclusion for older people.

Travellers Aid Australia

Travellers Aid Australia Elias Lebbos

TAA helps seniors maintain their independence and confidence when travelling to Melbourne. Its free, volunteer-provided services include help with navigating the public transport system and myriad other needs, such as making their medical appointments.

“Our volunteers are people who are retiring and moving to the CBD and Docklands and are looking to pass on their knowledge,” CEO Elias Lebbos says.

 “We are helping people do something they feel anxious about that we all do on a regular basis.

“We like to help people build their confidence so they can do things on their own, such as social engagements. We want them to engage and be part of the community.”

Council on the Ageing Victoria Senior Achiever Awards

Maria Wiseman, Moe South

Maria Wiseman

Maria has spent the past 10 years volunteering her time to coordinate the various programs run by the Gippsland Gateway Day Club, a club she formed with the help of her husband in 2008.

“The club is a great way for people to reconnect and meet up with old friends,” Maria says.

“They really appreciate what I do and the fact that many of them bring their friends  keeps me going. It’s about being part of a community.

“Volunteering is a two way process. People who do this role have something to give, the participants get to feel part of a group and are connected. 

“I’m very humbled to receive this award. I’m not doing this for any reason other than this is my calling. I don’t need a reward, I love what I do.”

Jennifer Disney, Diamond Creek

Jenny Disney

Jenny volunteers with Anglicare, the Country Women’s Association and her local church in various ‘hands on’ and administrative roles. Jenny was instrumental in the CWA’s motion to support marriage equality and, with her church, focuses on initiatives such as winter warming appeals, refugee support and fundraising to aid overseas missions.

“I started volunteering when I retired. I had more time on my hands and it was something good to do,” Jenny says.

“Volunteering makes me feel good that I am doing something for other people and not thinking about myself.

“I’m pleased, but embarrassed to receive this award because I haven’t done anything unusual.”

Margaret Griffith, Barwon Heads

Margaret Griffith

Margaret is the founder and chair of the Bellarine for Refugees group which has more than 30 volunteers assisting refugees who need assistance to apply for visas and find a home. Margaret is also a driving force behind the Barwon Estuary Project, which works with the local community, including the local primary school to create an awareness of the estuary.

“I always had an interest in migrants and refugees when I worked as an English as a second language teacher.  I understood the pressure they were under and, when I retired, I wanted to spend more time working with them,” Margaret says.

“I get a lot of joy from meeting people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. There is also the joy of working alongside other volunteers and trying to improve the level of generosity in our country.

“Thoughtful community engagement creates healthier people and mutually respectful communities.  

“I see this award as a great thing for the local community because I am being rewarded for community work. I am pleased the Victorian Government acknowledges the community work people do. I am representing many of them.”

Nola Nugent, Nunawading

Nola Nugent

Nola is actively involved in various roles associated with health and active living programs for older people, such as the Life Activities Group. She is also a key figure in the Knox Ramblers Walking Group. Nola believes if people are physically active they are not only healthier, but happier.

“I call myself a groupie, they are all social groups,” Nola says. 

“I love everything I do, it keeps me fit.  It’s important to keep active. I try to exercise 30 minutes every day - it could be in the garden or shopping - it means you are connected with others and keeps you young.”

John (Jack) Bell, Surrey Hills

Jack Bell

Jack’s enduring voluntary work with the Ex-Prisoners of War and Relatives Association and within the broader veterans and RSL community has seen him have a significant impact on not just many veterans, but the broader community. Jack, who was a prisoner of war himself, also works with school children to ensure the experiences and sacrifices people of his generation endured are still recognised and understood.

“I was brought up to help others. I was a ‘depression child’ and saw how much my parents helped the poor and unemployed people,” Jack, 99, says.

“It’s wonderful to see what can be done with the money raised from the thousands of volunteers. I don’t look for any honours. I just want to help the community.”

When asked about his work with school children, Jack says: “For many years I couldn’t talk about being a prisoner of war. Young children four, five, six are very interested and they ask questions you don’t know how to answer. ‘Why have you only received four medals?’ Once you are a prisoner of war you don’t receive any more. It really makes my day. It’s surprising how interested they are.

“My key message is tolerance and understanding for everyone in the world. In our prison camp there were 33 nationalities and we were all the same. You had to get on to survive.

“I don’t’ look for any honours. I just want to help the community. I never expected anything like this. I’m just an average bloke and I get very emotional when I think about this award.”

Robert Bolch, Langwarrin

Robert Bolch

Bob is a Justice of the Peace who, in 2005, established the Frankston Document Signing Station, which gives citizens easy access to a JP when they need a document witnessed.

In the past 12 years, Bob has been on volunteer duty there for more than 1,000 days and processed more than 235,000 documents. After opening the Frankston station, Bob helped establish similar centres in Mornington, Carrum Downs, Hastings and Rosebud.  

Bob has also volunteered at the Youth Referral Independent Person Program, which ensures a young person is accompanied at a police interview if their parent/guardian is unable to be present.

“I get a lot of joy out of helping people,” Bob says. “You see people who may not be able to grasp the reality of what they are about to apply for and you are helping them to achieve their end.

“We can’t give them advice on legal matters, but we can make sure the forms they are filling out are correct.

“I’m really excited to receive this award, but I have a good team of colleagues who have assisted me over the years and my greatest helper is my wife.”

Graham Boyd, Woodend

Graham Boyd

In 1998, Graham successfully campaigned to raise the allowable age for blood donors from 71 to 80, which has helped thousands of people. Graham’s work has been acknowledged by the Australian Red Cross.

“When I turned 71 I received a letter saying  my donating days are over. I was upset because I was a healthy fellow. I went to the Age Discrimination Commissioner and they agreed I had a good case,” Graham says.

“Giving blood is just a lovely feeling. It’s a social event as you meet new people over a cup of tea and you  go on your merry way. It’s doing something for someone. I wish I could do more.

“Receiving the award is a great feeling - it feels like the work you have done is appreciated. My wife said I will need to get a new suit because I haven’t bought one for a while.” 

Edward Jarrett, Sunbury

Ted Jarrett

Ted volunteers in various areas sport and recreation fields, the most prominent being the coordinator of the annual Veterans Golf Classic, which encourages seniors to play competitive golf in a friendly environment. The event has raised more than $200,000 over the years for various charities.

“It’s hard to explain the satisfaction I get from volunteering,” Ted says.

“I suppose the best way of explaining it is doing things for 35 years and seeing people come back and say hello and have a wonderful time is gratifying.

“I can’t emphasise the work that other people have done. This award is recognition of a job well done by many people. I’m the fortunate one who is receiving it but there are a lot of volunteers who have worked on the Veterans Golf Classic, including my wife, who is the secretary.”

John Lowcock, Hamilton

John Lowcock

John volunteers his time supporting the local Community Shed. He also acts as a role model, mentor and supporter for people of all ages in his region, particularly people dealing with physical disabilities and mental health issues.

“Volunteering has been part of my whole life,” John says. “If someone wanted a hand I’d help them. It’s the one thing that keeps me out of trouble.

“It’s given me more pleasure than I ever had in my working life. Service is the rent we pay to be here. People don’t realise they have a lot to offer.”

Apolonuz (George) Semkowski, Glenroy

George Semkowski

George volunteers with various associations, particularly in the Polish community. He cooks for community meals, visits people in need, organises outings and activities and also does the books! George’s aim is to keep older members of his community engaged and in touch.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” George, 92, says.

“I like to help people, it’s that simple. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing everyone’s smiling faces. I intend to keep doing this for as long as I can.”

George said he almost lost his voice when he was told about the award: “I’m stunned, I can’t believe it.”