Te Awamutu's newest St John's Ambulance went into service on Tuesday, thanks to the generosity of local couple Graham and Faye Cunningham.

For 68 years Graham lived at Kaipaki, raised on his parents Laurie and Doris' farm, and then continued on the farm with Faye until they sold and moved to Highfield Country Estate in Te Awamutu two years ago.

During the last few years on the farm Faye had experienced a few health issues and St John Ambulance paramedics had come to her aid a number of times.

Guests and St John staff take a close look at the newly commissioned ambulance. Photo / Dean Taylor
Guests and St John staff take a close look at the newly commissioned ambulance. Photo / Dean Taylor

Downsizing from the farmhouse to a retirement home meant they had a lot of extra household goods and furniture they no longer needed, so the Cunninghams donated them to the local St John Opportunity Shop.

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Graham says he would have liked to have done more — and then a chance sighting of an ambulance picking up another resident at Highfield gave him the inspiration he needed.

Signwriting on the ambulance advertised it had been donated by Chas and Cynthia Smith, also from the Kaipaki area and now living in Cambridge.

"We know the Smiths," Graham says.

"But we didn't know they had donated an ambulance to St John. Like most people, we didn't even know you could do that."

Waikato area Chaplain for the Order of St John Bishop Sir David Moxon dedicating the new ambulance. Photo / Dean Taylor
Waikato area Chaplain for the Order of St John Bishop Sir David Moxon dedicating the new ambulance. Photo / Dean Taylor

The Cunninghams were donating a dining table to the St John Shop, so when the volunteers collected it Graham asked, "How do we donate an ambulance?"

They received a call from central fundraising and marketing manager Jeanette Horan and the ball was rolling.

The Cunninghams planned to fully fund a new Generation 3 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, including specialist fitting at Hamilton-based Action Manufacturing, the company which provides St John with all its frontline ambulances and all medical equipment.

The Mercedes-Benz is powered by a 3litre DOHC V6 turbodiesel engine.

The Cunninghams were invited to view the progress of their ambulance at Action Manufacturing.

"It has been an interesting and educational process," Graham says.

Graham says they had never done anything like this before, but it felt rewarding and satisfying to be doing something important for the community.

He says it was great to see the ambulance finished and ready for service.

His message to the public is that people can donate — and make a difference.

On Tuesday morning the couple, family and friends were present for the handing over and dedication ceremony.

St John area committee chairman Ross McGowan welcomed them and a number of special guests, including St John Regional Trust Board chairman Ken Williamson, Central Region general manager Andrew Boyd, Central West district operations manager Stu Cockburn, territory manager Craig Scott and Waikato area Chaplain for the Order of St John Bishop Sir David Moxon.

Formal proceedings began with the gifting of the ambulance by the Cunninghams, received by Ken Williamson.

Sir David conducted the dedication of the ambulance and lead prayers before Graham and Faye handed the keys to Stu Cockburn.

Ken concluded the formalities by thanking the Cunninghams on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, who is the official Head of the Order, Chancellor Dr Steven Evans, the Order of St John, the Central Region, and the community for their remarkable generosity.

He said over its life thousands of fellow Kiwis will be cared for, treated and transported to hospitals in this ambulance.

Ken paid tribute to St John people, saying what makes them special is how much they care about helping others.

"Receiving such a generous donation recognises the work St John undertakes."

And the giving goes on, as the ambulance the new model replaces will be put into service in Te Kūiti to take over from an even older model.