Small NZ town reaps plenty from an ex-Melbourne woman’s extraordinary giving nature.

One could say this is a story of Australia's loss being New Zealand's gain.

Well Whatawhata's gain to be exact. The small Waikato settlement near Hamilton benefitted in a big way the day Genevieve Rorke and her husband Peter van Elzakker moved there from Melbourne seven years ago.

Opening a café - The Herb Café - which helped create a much-needed community hub for the town, Rorke also set about involving herself in community life to an astonishing degree - her list of giving breath-taking.

To put you in the picture here is just a small snapshot of her community-minded spirit: She organises food for the Whatawhata School camps, puts on Halloween parties every year, organises the school's gala, donates money from school lunches to purchase kapa haka uniforms, gives school staff free food, provides a venue for community meetings at no charge, employs local kids to help them pay for their school trips, gives food to people in need…..


Now Rorke is on the receiving end of some giving herself, with ASB rewarding her as the latest Good as Gold recipient.

Mark Hayward, ASB Counties and Waikato regional manager, says she has done so much for the community since moving there. "In that spirit, half of the award will be for her and her family but the other half will go to a community project in her name.

"It's great to be able to give something back to a person who has dedicated so much of her time to helping others," he says.

The bank is giving a $5000 donation in Rorke's name to the school library (a cause dear to her heart) and $5000 for her and her family to take a holiday.

Yet Rorke is so humble her initial thought was to give the money away: "There are a lot of other people who would deserve it, I don't think I'm all that special. I do what I do because I enjoy it, it's just who I am. Actually I'm a little embarrassed, I might need to go into hiding after all this."

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She's not going to though and says her kids - two sons aged 12 and 10 and an eight-year-old daughter - are already planning a holiday. "They've always wanted to go on a cruise, so that's probably what we will do."

Rorke was nominated for the award by a teacher at the school, Kate McGregor who describes Rorke as a true gem. "She totally doesn't realise what a special person she is and what an amazing role model she is for so many people. She is intelligent, capable, warm and resourceful and also happens to be the most generous person I know, she really is gold."


McGregor met Rorke when she first arrived in Whatawhata and she herself was a new teacher at the school.

"I had to make do with a store room for my first class of new entrants," she says. "It was rather shabby so when I mentioned it needed a lick of paint Gen (Rorke) used her powers of persuasion and got paint donated from the local paint shop before proceeding to spend Saturday and Sunday painting it with me.

"Over the years I've taught all her kids and she's been the number one parent at school; she hates being in the limelight yet she always goes above and beyond for those around her."

Rorke believes she inherited her attitude from her mother. Growing up on a dairy farm in a remote area of Victoria, Rorke came from a big family (she was number 10 of 11 children).

"An apple doesn't fall far from a tree," she says. "My mum was always looking after the wellbeing of others, she fostered a number of kids and was the sort of person who would give away her last five dollars.

"Helping others is what makes me happy too," she says. "We have everything we need but not everybody does."

When Rorke's husband's job meant the family needed to move to Waikato, the couple chose to live in Whatawhata because "the rolling green hills were so different from where we grew up and I wanted my children to experience living in a small community like I did when I was growing up," she says.

The idea for a café came after she realised there was no real hub in Whatawhata. She decided to buy several local buildings for others to rent and set up the café as a place people could meet. Today, as well as Rorke's café, the town 'centre' has a hairdresser, a florist, a children's playground (which Rorke had built) and space for pop-up shops.

"The café has succeeded beyond my expectations," says Rorke. "I love it because it gives me the opportunity to be able to give back to the community and I'm proud of the fact we have 19 staff - that means 19 people have jobs."