Duo dedicated to region

LIFE PARTNERSHIP: 2018 Penola Lions Seniors of the Year Keith and Dorrie Bennier with their cherished wedding photograph
LIFE PARTNERSHIP: 2018 Penola Lions Seniors of the Year Keith and Dorrie Bennier with their cherished wedding photograph

COMMITTED community members Keith and Dorrie Bennier have dedicated their lives to the region through tireless volunteering efforts over their outstanding 60 years of marriage.

In the same month of receiving the Lions Seniors of the Year Award at the 2018 Penola Australia Day breakfast, the respected couple also celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

Ms Bennier, originally from Millicent, married Mr Bennier, from Kalangadoo on January 11, 1958, in the Nangwarry Presbyterian Church – before its congregation.

“The reception was held at what was then the Nangwarry Football Club, and we first moved out onto Keith’s family’s farm, five miles out of Penola,” Ms Bennier said.

The couple later left and moved in with Ms Bennier’s parents in Yahl.

Mr Bennier began working at Kain and Shelton Truck Driving (K&S Freight) before opting for work at a sawmill.

Following this, the pair moved to Mount Gambier, where they had two children, Terry, now 58 and Debbie, now 55.

“After the children began school, Keith started working in pine felling and truck driving,” Ms Bennier said.

“He then began a job as a farmhand in Kalangadoo on a historic homestead.”

During their time at the homestead, the frightening Ash Wednesday fires destroyed traumatic memory staying with the couple forever.

“On that day our son Terry stayed home from work, as he felt something was off,” Ms Bennier said.

“Suddenly, it went pitch black outside.”

As Ms Bennier and Terry left their home, they drove past their elderly neighbour and her son.

“We could not leave them, so we stopped and picked them up, and as soon as we stopped the air went clear again,” Ms Bennier said.

“We then turned around and went back home where we continued to fight the fire with buckets of water.

“We did not let ourselves think about what could be happening to Keith as he was up in the paddock.

“We just kept working.”

After some time Mr Bennier approached the property on his motorbike, with Ms Bennier describing the sight as the best thing she had seen in her life.

As the homestead was left with a lot of property damage due to the fire, the Benniers’ work ended.

Mr Bennier gained employment at International Panel and Lumber, working double shifts which allowed the couple to buy a house at Kalangadoo and settle down before deciding to move to Penola.

Stay at home mum, Ms Bennier first started volunteering when her children went to school, assisting at their school and working for Meals on Wheels in Mount Gambier.

“After moving to Kalangadoo we got involved in many volunteer groups,” Ms Bennier said.

The pair spent their time contributing to Red Cross, Kalangadoo Lions, Kalangadoo Progress Association and the Country Women’s Association, among others.

Being active Lions club members at Kalangadoo for 20 years, the couple has been involved in many community activities within the town.

Ms Bennier held the position of first female president of the Kalangadoo Lions Club and was the first female president in the region at the time.

Mr Bennier helped relocate and paint the Nangwarry Medical Clinic along with being a volunteer driver for the Red Cross and Lions clubs.

The dedicated community member also raised valuable funds by pruning at the Penola vineyards and was declared “King of the Vines” in 2009.

Ms Bennier said the couple always strived to be workers in the groups they were involved in, not just members.

Now highly respected members of Tandara Lodge, the couple always wanted to live at the lodge.

“We had the idea planned and our name down on the list, which is usually a four year wait,” Mr Bennier said.

“A week later a unit became vacant and we took it up, selling the house within five weeks.”

The pair have now been residents for 14 years.

“It was meant to be, we love it here – everybody knows everybody and they are all wonderful people,” Ms Bennier said.

Not only do the Benniers have a love for the lodge, but their love for the Penola community remains strong.

“We go down the street each day in Penola and try to visit each shop, and with Penola being a tourist town, we come across many people from different places,” Mr Bennier said.

Looking back over their 60 years of marriage, Mr Bennier said the couple rarely argued.

“Dorrie has been my rock and life is just what it is, we never worried about the top shelf stuff, we just happily roll along,” he said.

Highlights during their marriage include the couple’s many holidays across Australia in their caravan and ,most importantly, their children.

“A highlight of our marriage would definitely be our children, we are very lucky to have two great kids who are our best friends,” Ms Bennier said.

Reflecting on the award, the pair said it was an honour to receive the accolade however they were still in shock.

“For the little bit we have given, we have received back a hundred times,” Ms Bennier said.

“We do it to put smiles on faces and that is more than enough for us.”