Members of U3A Hervey Bay are elated that one of their tutors, Sue Downey and members of her writing group have achieved 25 years continuous writing in their class, and they have celebrated in style with past and present U3A members to recognise this significant milestone for U3A Hervey Bay.
Hervey Bay Mayor George Seymour attended the celebration in full regalia to join in the celebrations and to show his continued strong support for U3A, as he does for all the community support organisations in the region.
“I can’t begin to imagine how many stories have been written over that time,” he said. “I congratulate Sue and her group on their record achievement and I’m proud of the great work U3A do within our community.”
Before being elected, Councillor Seymour worked as a solicitor, a disability support worker and ran the region’s youth homeless shelter so he knows the importance of U3A in the community, and he has served as a U3A tutor.
For her part, Sue Downey was overjoyed to be recognised for her writing group’s achievement, a journey that began in 1995 when she moved to Hervey Bay from Millmerran.
“After I moved to Hervey Bay, someone who knew me in Millmerran spread the word that I might be worth approaching to take on a writing class here, and I was approached by the Hervey Bay Writers Group, and I gladly accepted the offer.
“That’s where I first met Brad Wells. He was the keenest writer/poet I have ever met, and I was thrilled to guide him through his writing journey. With his learning disability at the time, he struggled but tried his best every week to improve. With encouragement from others in the class, he completed all the work he needed to do, and his confidence and writing grew stronger each week.”
Unfortunately, the class continued for 18 months but folded. Then in 1997 Sue was invited to do a six-week course; however, that six weeks turned into 25 years.
Sue started the course fifteen students with an array of writers. “There were schoolteachers who wanted to do something unrelated to schoolwork, a lady who was a drover and had a myriad of stories to share and our precious Lyn Dorian who said she didn’t want to do it, but her doctor insisted.
“Lyn stayed for at least 15 years. We are so pleased she did, and we loved to hear of her exploits as a chambermaid, and of course we enjoyed her pikelets with crushed strawberries laced with a dash of rum.
“And then there was Doreen Grant, aka Dorro. Apart from being a brilliant artist she was a stage performer and being the smallest in her troupe, she was the one to be on the top of a six people high pyramid. She often talked about her stage days performing with Harry Secombe.
“From the first day of class, one of the teachers was Fe Cassell whose second language was English. Fe struggled with sentence structure, and with support from myself and the other students she learned to put words into perspective and excelled at writing. Now, she has blossomed into a beautiful writer often drawing on her life experiences in the Philippines.
“My weekly visits with my mentor and friend, Lotte Lewin encouraged me to be creative but most of all to enjoy what I was doing. A 25-year friendship I hold close to my heart. She stood in for me often when I was away, and I believe was popular with others in the class. She went on to take another class that is still current today.
“To the present day, I still have up to fifteen registered students from diverse background experience, who have also excelled over the years with their writing confidence and even though they object to some of the writing homework, they always do it, and every piece of writing is original and exciting to listen to.
“We struggled over the years to keep men in the class. Maybe they felt a bit intimidated?
“Enter Paul Leggatt. What an asset he is. Apart from taking us on a musical journey through the years in his writing every week, he has built a strong rapport with Brad and it’s wonderful to see.
“I am proud of my achievements over the last 25 years; to have helped many of my students reach their goals of publishing books, entering, and winning competitions, and most of all creating lifelong friendships. We support each other through good and tough times, and I would never change that. We are a family and that’s important.
“Special thanks go to U3A for giving me a lifechanging experience, and a special thank you to my students for their support of the writing class, and for making the celebration so memorable. They even bestowed an honorary professorship on me at the celebration event.”
Photo (top): Sue Downey in honorary professor regalia is congratulated on her more than 25 years voluntary service to U3A Hervey Bay by the Mayor, Councillor George Seymour
Photo (side): Mayor George Seymour crowns Brad Wells ‘King for a Day’ in recognition of his achievements in creative writing with U3A Hervey Bay.