In Memory of George Wheeler,
It was with great sadness I learnt of the passing of George Wheeler last week. George had been battling Prostate Cancer for several years. I visited George in 2018 after hearing of his diagnosis. Below is the article I wrote about George and I think it is a fitting time to repost the article.
George was a character to say the least, he was cheeky and witty and brought a smile to everyone he knew. He will be sadly missed. Rest in peace George.
George Kenneth (George) WHEELER
1941 - 2020
WHEELER, George Kenneth (George). Born August 29, 1941. Passed away on August 16, 2020. Our beloved and mischievous George; Husband, Father, Opa and friend to many. After a long and difficult battle with prostate cancer, George passed away in his home, at Possum Bourne Village (Pukekohe), thirteen days before his 79th birthday. He was being nursed by his amazing and dedicated wife Rosalie with the help of Hospice. George leaves behind a huge gap in our family, dearly loved husband of 56 years to Rosalie, loved Father to Troy and Briar, Mark, Todd and Sandra, adored Opa to Alisha, Danielle, Kristen and Phillip, Cody, Kent and Jess, Tim, Helaina, Hollie and Toby. Due to current Covid restrictions, funeral arrangements are still being organised and a notification of the celebration of George's life will made in due course. Our heartfelt thanks to George's Doctor of 32 years, David Shand and to the wonderful nurses at Franklin Hospice. In lieu
George’s memorial service will be held at 11am next Friday the 20th November at Pukekohe Cosmopolitan Club, 78 Nelson Street, Pukekohe.
For those who are unable to attend in person there will be a live stream of the service on George’s Facebook page. The full video will be made available to watch again once the service is finished.
“I wish I had been in horticulture my entire career” (article first published April 2018)
From wool exporting to growing carnations and store manager at Veg Gro.
You may recognise the cheeky smile from one of horticultures character’s. George Wheeler has been retired for over ten years now, but if you ever purchased products from Veg-gro in Drury from the early 90’s, until 2006, you will possibly recognise him. When I first started growing in 1995 George was one of the first people I met, he was always welcoming and knowledgeable when I went to buy my supplies at Veg-gro.
George was born in Auckland in 1941. He has lived his entire life in the Auckland region attending Avondale College in West Auckland. The youngest of three children, he had a brother and sister (twins) who were three years older. He finished school in sixth form and thereafter attended Massey completing a degree in ‘Wool Classing’. George then worked 6 years for a wool purchasing, export company. During this period in his life George was an avid polo player and luckily for George his Dad introduced him to his wife Rosalie Brown, at a polo match in Waimai near Huntly, in the early 60’s. In 1964 they were married, they had three sons from which they now have nine grandchildren! They are still happily married, 54 years later, living in Buckland Pukekohe. They have recently sold this property, and as George tells me they are “moving to the wrinkle farm” (retirement village in Pukekohe).
In 1970 George had the opportunity to work for a different wool company, Aotearoa Wool Scourers. Wool was purchased, washed, then sold to overseas markets. During this time, he and Rosalie also grew table grapes in greenhouses at Mangere, South Auckland. In 1985 George wanted a change, he was hoping to grow grapes commercially, this did not eventuate as the financing needed was hard to come by. They decided to purchase a flower growing business in Drury, South Auckland, growing carnations. The property had 4000m2 of glasshouse structures. When George took over the property it had been neglected. The crop was so infested by insects it had to be replaced. Soon after George and Rosalie had the property back up to a high standard. The carnations were initially sold for export. If flowers were sold on the local market it was generally through Turners auctions in Palmerston North and Market Gardeners in Wellington. George and Rosalie were the first flower growers to start selling ‘ready-made bouquets’ through the local auction system. This happened as some plants could not be exported. The local market started making them three times as much return compared to exporting, hence the reason the local market became the preferred destination for the carnations.
During the time growing in Drury they gained their growing knowledge from MAF and from their neighbour and fellow flower grower Graham Rushbrook. The first few years were hard; interest rates were around 22% at the time they purchased the business and they stayed high for several years. Hard work and perseverance paid off as the business became very successful.
George has always been a people person, in 1990 he noticed a job advertisement for the store manager at Veg-Gro Drury, he decided to apply for the position. Rosalie recalls George going for the interview in his work t-shirt and shorts. Rosalie was so happy when George was offered the job because she said he was only in the greenhouse 50% of the time and spent the rest of his time chin-wagging! George remained the store manager at Drury until his retirement in 2006.
When he became store manager in Drury there were only two staff. By the time George retired there were nine staff at the Drury branch. The total turnover was 2.7 million in 1990 for the two Veg-gro branches and by the time he retired in 2006 the sales from five stores in the North Island exceeded 25 million. In the early to mid-1990’s the greenhouse vegetable sector started to expand rapidly with the larger properties emerging, creating the need for a lot more greenhouse consumables such as chemicals and fertilizers. George started making regular trips to Holland. At events such as Hortifair, George was able to make contacts with suppliers to bring new products to New Zealand. Growing substrates and clips are just two examples. George’s previous experience was invaluable moving the Veg-gro business forward. George recalls in the early 1990’s the biggest change for tomato growers was changing from single cropping to double cropping and using heating systems.
George was influential in the purchase of Horticentre from Jan Hoefleck who was supplying consumables to flower growers. George identified this as the perfect opportunity for Veg-gro to branch out and supply the flower growers. From this came the name we know today.
During his teenier at Veg-gro George and Rosalie purchased a property in Aririmu, an old burnt down greenhouse was restored and new tunnel houses were built to keep growing carnations as well as chrysanthemums.
If you know George, you know what a character he is and how he’s always uplifting and positive, enjoys a good yarn and a laugh. He hasn’t changed. George is still passionate about horticulture and likes to know what is happening in the covered crop industry. He said to me “I wished I had been involved with horticulture my entire career”.
George is currently going through a tough time, last September he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Currently he is undergoing chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the cancer has spread to many parts of his body so he will potentially need treatment for the rest of his life. He has not told many people about his illness as he does not want a fuss made of him. As soon as I heard about his illness I contacted him and asked to write this article about him. George has helped many growers over the years directly and indirectly, he and his wife Rosalie richly deserve our support.
George was having regular blood test, but between the time of the tests the cancer developed, rapidly it spread throughout his body. Every 6-12 months I have a blood test as a precaution, this reminds me I am due for another one. I hope this encourages you to visit your doctor as it could prevent an unwanted outcome.
I wish George and Rosalie all the best.
George and Rosalie have built a superb looking garden in Buckland
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Article Written and compiled by Stefan Vogrincic, Consultant, Grower2Grower
Article Edited by Marie Vogrincic, Editor, Grower2Grower