Written by Michelle Tanner.
Sandra is one of those rare people, a real listener, someone who makes you feel what you are saying is important. A journalist of many years it was only after I conducted this informal interview that I thought I should have been nervous about it beforehand. Sandra is an expert interviewer!
I wanted to write about Sandra as part of our Rotary Matamata website page ‘About Us’, profiling Matamata Rotarians. We met one spring morning in a local Matamata café in 2022.

MT: Sandra when did you first encounter Rotary?

SH: In 1985 when Merv King and Peter Wilson visited us and asked (husband) Brian to join Rotary. I did not know much about Rotary then other than it was a ‘service organisation that did good’ oh, and my (Scottish) father always referred to it as ‘The Rotary’. I knew that Rotary did ‘sweat projects’ (in response to my quizzical look), you know practical things, in the local community and seemed to have networking connections with other Rotary clubs, but I had no idea of the breadth and scope of Rotary’s work.
I learnt more in 1988 when we hosted an exchange (Rotary Youth Exchange) student. Gail was from Oklahoma, and, while I was nervous about how it would all work out, she walked into our home and stormed into our hearts. She has been the most wonderful gift Rotary has given us. (Sandra refers to Gail as “our Rotary daughter” and she is truly part of the Hunter family)
MT: It was in the late 80’s that Rotary accepted women into the organisation. Did you consider joining?
SH: No. I was asked to join in those early days, but I saw Rotary as ‘Brian’s thing’.
MT: And Inner Wheel? (A Rotary sponsored, and the world’s largest women’s service organisation.)
SH: Again, I was asked to join 30 years ago but I was busy, not with just children and a full-time job (Sandra was a journalist on the Matamata Chronicle for many years) but I also worked with Victim Support and as a relationship counsellor. I did join Inner Wheel in 2008 and have held various offices continuously since my second year. 
MT: So, what was your involvement in Rotary at this time?
SH: I would go to the usual social functions, Christmas etcetera, and to meetings if they had an interesting speaker. I was always made to feel welcome, like I was part of the family. 
MT: Sandra you are a well-respected celebrant. How did that come about?
SH: My work with Victim Support and as a couples, family and relationships counsellor, as well as a family court mediator was incredibly rewarding, but, eventually, I wanted to be at the ‘happy hopes and dreams end’ of couples’ relationships. I applied to Births, Deaths and Marriages to become a celebrant but they wanted more male celebrants in this area, so it was a ‘Thank you but no thank you’. Some years later, our godson was getting married and wanted me to marry them. I re-applied and was accepted. The wedding was two weeks after I had surgery so was quite a challenge! I loved it, officiated at another two months later and just continued. Glenda (Milligan, a local funeral director who would herself become a Rotarian), eventually asked me to take a funeral. So, I did and conducted both until 2021, but now just take funerals. I take pride in tailoring services to whatever the client wants, as long as it is respectful. It is a privilege to be part of these events, and to be trusted to lead such precious occasions in a person’s life.
MT: So, Sandra, polio. You have contributed so much to Rotary’s PolioPlus programme. Why is that?
In the beginning my fees as a celebrant were donated to the leukaemia and blood trust but I then decided to spread the love and for a while gave them to Hospice and the fire brigade’s competition team’s travelling expenses. Then I heard about PolioPlus, maybe something I was writing for the Chronicle, maybe a speaker at Rotary, I can’t quite remember. I got very excited about this and decided to honour my mum and Rotary’s work in polio eradication, an area so close to my heart by donating my fees to PolioPlus.
(Over the years Sandra has donated approximately $30,000 to Rotary’s End Polio Now programme through Rotary Matamata. For over a decade the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has matched those funds by, initially 1:1 and later 2:1, making Sandra’s contributions worth close on $90,000, enough to vaccinate around 300,000 children.)
MT: I believe your mom had polio. Can you tell me about that?
SH: My mum and my aunt. Can you believe, two out of six children get polio at the same epidemic wave! My mum was 12 and her sister was 15. My early recollections were of her wasted leg and limp. When she bought new shoes she had to go to the cobbler to have one built up. It was so sad, she was full of music, had a beautiful soprano and so wanted to dance. She coped well but was sometimes angry and I now know that anger was actually grief. She was wahine toa - a strong woman and a good role model. She raised us almost single-handed as my father, a deep-sea diver, worked all over the world and was home only for about a month in a year.
MT: Is your mother still alive? I wonder if she was affected by post-polio syndrome (PPS)?
SH: Sadly no. She passed away from cancer when she was just 53. Isn’t post-polio syndrome interesting though. (We then digressed into a discussion on PPS)
MT: Have any other family members been involved in Rotary? 
SH: Yes, our granddaughter in South Africa is going to apply to the Rotary exchange programme (RYE) and our son Ross was financially supported by Rotary on the Spirit of Adventure as a 17-year old (he’s now 50!). And, I was made an Honorary Rotarian in 2013.
MT: What does Rotary mean to you now?
SH: I am in awe of Rotary, of their work worldwide to improve the lives of so many people. Huge respect. Brian and I were in Washington DC in 2018 and, while walking along the The Extra Mile – Points of Light Volunteer Pathway, we saw a plaque honouring Paul Harris (the founder of what was to become Rotary International). I was just so proud to know Brian and I were part of this, so proud.
Thank you, Sandra. It has been a pleasure. And again, thank you, from Rotary Matamata for all the work you do to help us eradicate polio.