One in a million: how a kind-hearted retiree is still serving the community

At 85, former mechanic Sandy Kelman is still helping in any way he can, including delivering meals to the area's elderly.

When he retired three years ago aged 82, Scottish-born Sandy Kelman resolved to always have a plan.

The former diesel mechanic, who has survived throat cancer, a heart attack and a scam that nearly cost him his life savings, believes a life without purpose would be worse than anything he has faced so far, "including the awful Scottish weather" that persuaded him to emigrate to New Zealand 55 years ago.

"I can't envisage spending my days just reading and gardening and pottering about with only myself for company," he says. "I couldn't settle."

So, from the day he stopped driving steamrollers and trucks and directing traffic for a large infrastructure and roadworks company in 2019, he decided on a new plan. It included volunteering to deliver meals to the elderly - many of whom are younger than him.

Sandy is a resident at Freeman Court, operated by Habitat for Humanity. It was built more than 50 years ago by the Te Awamutu community to provide accommodation for older people who wanted to live independently with some external support.

This is just one of the ways Habitat for Humanity helps to transform the lives of 75,000 Kiwis every year to ensure they live in warm, dry housing and why AMI is proud to partner with them.

Freeman Court also provides meals for 32 people who live in their own homes in Te Awamutu and nearby Kihikihi. On Thursdays, Sandy loads up his silver Nissan, and distributes food to more than a dozen clients, most of whom are people living alone.

He enjoys a socially-distanced chat if they are home. If not, he leaves the food in a chilly bin well out of reach of any cats or dogs. The meals, he says, are "grand" and better than those he cooked for himself when he lived alone.

Sandy emigrated to New Zealand in 1967 after a miserable summer holiday in Scotland when it rained every day. He saw an ad for skilled tradesmen in New Zealand. "I said to my wife, 'Will you go with me?' "She said, 'I'll go anywhere with you.'" So they moved with their three young children. He has worked for a range of garages and workshops in the Waikato, and for two years in Papua New Guinea, training young apprentices. Alongside his work, he has always volunteered. "If you are fit and able, it's a good thing to give something back."

His wife died in 2009 and, two years later, Sandy was diagnosed with throat cancer and later survived a heart attack. He was also scammed by a salesman purporting to offer reduced power bills. Months later, when he realised, his daughter - a lawyer - stepped in. The money was recovered and there was a successful prosecution. But the incident spooked him. "I didn't want to worry about my house, taxes, insurance and other utilities anymore." Last year, he sold his house and moved to Freeman Court.

He intends to continue volunteering for as long as he can. And he would like to return to Scotland to see his four brothers and four sisters - "as soon as Covid allows".

He doesn't miss full-time work but he knows the benefits of staying active and involved. "Volunteering is very satisfying. People are so grateful for your help."

Freeman Court administrator Gill Haynes says they are grateful for Sandy's services, "especially when it's hard to recruit volunteers".

"He is one in a million."