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Volunteering is centenarian Annie Kersten’s fountain of youth

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Annie Kersten celebrating 100 years. Photos: Fletcher Ruddick

Annie Kersten’s advice to stay young? Keep on volunteering, helping, and giving to others

It’s not what most people would do on their 100th birthday, but then most people aren’t like Annie Kersten.

The Corrimal centenarian spent her special day the same way she has spent every Wednesday for almost 50 years: volunteering at her local Vinnies store.

As one of Australia’s oldest volunteers, she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate her milestone birthday than helping others and has no intention of stopping any time soon.

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Once a week, the mother-of-six arrives at 9am sharp where she unpacks, prices and positions donated bric-a-brac on the shelves with the aid of her walking frame.

Not one to let her age get in the way of her life of service, she joined the local Lions Club of Wollongong last year, aged just 99.

The long-time parishioner of St Columbkille’s Catholic Church at Corrimal said volunteering is the secret to her longevity.

She said there’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you are making somebody else’s life that little bit better.

“I just love it, knowing I am helping others really does keep me going,” she beamed.

“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have my ‘job’ at Vinnies.

“My late husband was very committed to the parish and volunteering was in his blood, and even though I had six kids it became my passion as well and I’m so glad I did.

“I see people who retire and at first it’s great, but then they get bored and run out of things to do and they seem to give up.

“They sit on the couch and look out the window at life rather than being part of it.

“Once you stop it’s very hard to get going again.

“Knowing I have to get to work on a Wednesday gives me something to look forward to, I love my job and just as importantly I love the people I work with.

“They are such a lovely bunch who have become very dear friends.

“I love seeing them as much as I love doing the work.

Volunteering at her local Vinnies store.

“If I could say one thing about getting older, just don’t stop moving. Keep going and you’ll be amazed what you are capable of.

“I’ll still be going until my last day. I feel young, maybe 80 or so, and can’t believe I am this old.”

Having fled to Australia from the Netherlands after the Second World War with her late husband, William and just two children at the time, they lived in a tent with other refugees in Wollongong’s Stuart Park, and became familiar with the parish priest by going to weekly Mass.

Her husband landed a job at the local steelworks and the young family were able to purchase a modest home almost a year later.
Four more children came along but that didn’t stop the devoted Catholics from making time for others.

Daughter Wilma, who now lives with her mum, said both her parents were always such an inspiration to their large family.

She said even today her spritely mum, who has 13 grandkids, 35 great grandkids and 2 great, great, grandkids, always manages to make time to volunteer.

“Dad always said you need to give back to the community no matter how busy you are and mum’s still doing it,” she said.

“And that has obviously rubbed off on us all, we all do our bit in different ways, my sister and I are in the Lions Club and last year mum joined with us at age 99 which shows you are never too old.

“Mum absolutely loves it. Volunteering is a real comfort for mum, it provides a strong social connection, and she always insists on being here at 9am sharp because that’s when work starts.

“She’s very committed and takes it very seriously.”

Vinnies Wollongong area manager, Sarah Harris, said it was an honour to have Annie volunteer and that it is inspiring to see the effects of her lifetime of commitment.

“Apart from the huge contribution Annie and her late husband Bill have made to the local community, Vinnies has also given her a real sense of belonging and a feeling of being useful,” she said.

“We are so lucky and continue to enjoy her company and gifts, and is a very important member of our team.

“If only more people were like Annie and realised the gifts they can offer others.”
And after her five decades of volunteering, Annie has learnt many things but one thing still makes her scratch her head.

“I can’t understand why people buy jeans with holes and rips in them,” she smiled. “It might be the fashion, but I just can’t see why people would pay good money for them.”

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