For the past 70 years, Hazel Cooper has fundraised for local families, prepared meals for SES workers, door knocked for the Salvos and made jams and chutneys for overseas aid projects. Last month, the 82-year-old Mackay-based Salvo received the prestigious Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award.
How did you feel on the night you received the Lori Burgess Community Volunteer Award?
I was in shock, utter shock. My legs were shaking and I could hardly walk—I was that nervous. I had to be helped to the stage. I only found I was nominated a week before and my family had nominated me so I had a few words with them. That’s family for you.
Can you tell me a little about your Salvation Army background?
I had a Salvo mother and grandparents. My dad was a Christian, but not a Salvation Army member. I was brought up in a family of six children and we went to church and Sunday school religiously.
I grew up in Mackay with the Army being my life. I went to every meeting available—five nights a week, and three times on Sunday. I spent every school holiday out collecting. I loved every bit of it. The Army provided me with everything I wanted to do as a child.
When I was 12, I started teaching Sunday school. And that was that. It was on from there. That was in 1948 and I think I taught Sunday school for 46 years all up.
You’ve done a lot of fundraising for overseas aid projects. How did this begin?
From going to Sunday school I learnt about Bibles for China. We were given little square boxes and asked to put our pennies in for the Bibles. And so I started doing odd jobs in my neighbourhood where I was paid a few pennies and I started putting them in this box.
And that taught me that there were people in the world who were hungry and in need. It didn’t matter that we didn’t own anything; there were people who needed our help. And that’s where my passion for helping people overseas began.
Tell me about more about your overseas funding projects
A little while ago I saw an ad on the TV about children having to drink dirty water and this really affected me. I mean, I had had 13 children and none of them had to drink dirty water and I felt touched by that ad. I actually thought in this country we would have our children taken off us if we gave them dirty water.
I thought this was terrible and wanted to raise money to have a well put into a village and it cost $2,000 and I thought, “I’m a pensioner how can I raise so much money?” So I started making lemon and passionfruit butter, and you would not believe the donations I had given to me. A man gave me a $100 towards it. I was also given a free table at the local market. I just felt that God was working for me on this project.
It goes on and on and we’ve made quite a bit of money. We’ve built the well, bought some canoes and fishing equipment, put a toilet in a girls’ high school and I’m currently working on buying generators for hospitals.
Do you work alone or do you have helpers?
I have a couple of ladies from the church who help me make preserves. I have sciatic palsy in one leg and my son who lives with me stirs and helps me bottle things.
You don’t seem like you’ll stop anytime soon Hazel, but how will you know when enough’s enough?
I feel like I’ll keep going. Healthwise if I feel I can’t do it that will be God telling me to take a break. Because when I had my sciatic nerve cut during an operation (a hip replacement) they told me that I might not walk and I argued with God I was so angry. I said “You’ve been using me all these years; you know what I’ve got in me so why do this to me?”
And then I realised God had a different channel for me, so this is something I can do while I have a bad leg. I’ve been like this for 20 years.
With having had 13 children I assume you’ve been made a grandmother more than once or twice…
Yes, but I lost two of my boys, one at 50 and the other was 56. I have 30 grandchildren and I have 60 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren and I’ve got three more coming in April and August.
How do you relax?
By doing nothing, really. I watch TV. I like to do puzzles or visit my friends.