Music central to life of colourful, family man

Last updated 17:25 05/02/2014
Southland Times photo
Nick van der Lem

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One of the most colourful characters in post-war immigration to Southland, Dutch born Nick van der Lem, died in Invercargill last month, three days after his family had gathered to celebrate his 83rd birthday.

They saw it as typical of their dad, an enormously sociable friendly character, staying round as long as there was action to be enjoyed, a song to be sung.

His good tenor voice was long a feature of family birthdays and weddings and of more public occasions too, Nick not infrequently bursting into O Solo Mio at the sight of an old friend on Dee street.

It did not take much to persuade him to sing; it took nothing at all.

The song in his heart was never far from his lips.

This "out there" personality won friends, and sometimes lost them.

People loved Nick or didn't.

He was unaware of that and treated everyone with warmth and friendliness which helped make him a successful mine host in accommodation and the Swan Lake motel complex he ran with his Tuatapere-born wife Kathleen Lee.

It was a family business. In everything he did, Nick van der Lem was a family man.

In the early 1950s he came to New Zealand, an upholsterer by trade, followed a little later by his brother Peter, a carpet layer.

Their skills were in demand and both were to marry, settling in the south bringing up family and grandchildren here.

Nick and Kathleen married in 1956 and from their initial home base in Yarrow St had a family of five - Antony, Virginia, Bernadette, Macushla and Maureena.

They ran their motel complex, Swan Lake, in Invercargill's North Road for many years and later leased it out to travel in their semiretirement, visiting friends and family in the Netherlands and the United States, spending winters away from their Gimblett St home, over on Australia's Sunshine Coast.

Nick sang in many choirs - the Invercargill Male Choir, the Southland Choral society, several church choirs but his forte was singing solo and he loved classical music.

He also loved golf and chess, was a skilled and competitive player in both fields, read widely, loved sunshine and wine and growing his own early potatoes.

Their motel complex, 15 units on 6 hectares was the largest in the city when built in the late 1960s in the North Road. The land lay to the north and the property included a mini golf course, acres of trees, Nick's vegetable garden and an area of small farmland - all of which proved of real interest to overseas visitors coming south.

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The eldest in a family of 16 children Nicolaas came alone to New Zealand as a 21 year old.

In 2006, celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with Kathleen, their children, grandchildren and the first great grandchildren about them, Nick had said he felt completely happy, "a real Kiwi at last with generations of family about me".

He died as he had lived, with his wife and family close.

He leaves Kathleen widowed at Ascot Care, only son Antony and his wife Clare in Taupo; daughters Virginia Bagrie, Hanmer Springs; Bernadette van der Lem, Dunedin; Macushla Chisholm, Invercargill and Maureena van der Lem in Wellington, brothers and sisters and their families in Holland, his brother Peter and his family in Invercargill, and 11 grand children and six great grandchildren thinking of their much loved granddad surely singing solo now in a heavenly choir.

- The Southland Times


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