'Debt' to dad has been repaid

DONE HIS BIT: Johan Bonnevie says he has felt enriched by helping out Arohanui Hospice as a volunteer.
DONE HIS BIT: Johan Bonnevie says he has felt enriched by helping out Arohanui Hospice as a volunteer.

It's with a happy heart that Palmerston North man Johan Bonnevie steps down as volunteer vacuum cleaner at Arohanui Hospice, more than two decades after he took up the role to honour his father's memory.

It was July 1952 when the Norwegian-born educator took up his first teaching post in Waimana, in the Bay of Plenty, only to be told his father was dying of cancer on the other side of the world.

"He was visiting my sister in England and the cancer was diagnosed," he said. "But I was too poverty-stricken to visit because it was my second year of teaching so I wasn't able to get to him.

"We had been very close in my childhood, so it was very easy to volunteer."

Mr Bonnevie moved to Palmerston North in 1971, where he became principal of Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School.

But it was in 1991 when Arohanui opened that he immediately signed up for vacuuming - although he later found it was the mopping he preferred.

"I chose the humblest job I could find and that was vacuum cleaning the corridor, and there was an ocean of carpet," he said. "Having done that I went on to wet mop the floor where the patients were and that was the job I really wanted.

"I was able to talk to the patients and that was a strangely satisfying job. Sometimes it felt like I was almost talking with my father."

For 22 years and nine months Mr Bonnevie spent one Saturday every month vacuuming, mopping and talking to people whose days were numbered.

"There was a feeling of understanding and empathy and above all else, compassion that seemed to pervade the place," he said.

"The nurses went out of their way to thank the volunteers but I don't think they ever understood how important the work was [to me] and how much I felt enriched by being there."

But one Saturday in February Mr Bonnevie felt he'd done his dash with the vacuum and mop.

"I felt like the work was physically beyond me, I felt like it had enriched my life and I felt like I'd paid my debt to my father," he said.

"[And] for the past two or three months there had been more volunteers forthcoming so I hadn't mopped the patients' floors for a few months."

Although Mr Bonnevie officially retired in February, he will be back in the corridors on Christmas Day to remember his father, honour his debt and lend an ear.

Arohanui Hospice strategy and operations director Louise Bartholomew said Mr Bonnevie was a dedicated, loyal and reliable volunteer.

"We have really appreciated his constant support and his willingness to always help on Christmas Day," she said.

"Volunteers like Johan are the backbone of Arohanui Hospice - we simply couldn't do what we do without them. Our volunteers give so willingly of their time and effort. In the last 12 months alone they have donated nearly 60,000 hours of their support."

Manawatu Standard