THE founder of Henley Choral Society has been honoured for decades of service to the community.
Wendy Hawkins was awarded the Henley town medal at a special ceremony at the town hall on Monday.
Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak made the presentation before an invited audience of about 40 people.
Among those who attended were Mrs Hawkins’ husband Andrew and their children Alison, 27, and Jonathan, 25.
Also present were society members Toni Aitken, who nominated her for the medal, and Peter Ashby.
The 68-year-old singer and pianist, of Berkshire Road, Henley, grew up in Taunton and studied music at Cardiff University.
She moved to Henley in 1972 and launched the choral society with her first husband Graham Gooder a year later.
Shortly afterwards she became organist and choirmistress at Stoke Row Independent Chapel, a role she still occupies today.
She taught music at Langtree School in Woodcote for 13 years then moved to Rupert House School in Henley. She retired in 2008 but continues to work with young people as a judge for the Henley Youth Festival.
Mr Gooder, who was head of music at the former Henley Grammar School in Deanfield Avenue, died in 1977.
Mrs Hawkins married her second husband, who is a member of the society, in 1983. She is currently the society’s deputy chairman and membership secretary but has served in many roles over the years.
As well as working on the committee, she has regularly accompanied and sung with the choir. She takes part in joint performances with choirs from Henley’s twin town of Leichlingen and arranges exchange visits.
Mrs Hawkins is also accompanist for the Henley Concert Singers and conductor for the Henley Carol Singers, both of which raise money for local charities.
Last year, the concert singers raised £400 towards the repair of the roof at Henley Youth Centre. The carol singers raised £2,350 for Wyfold Riding for the Disabled with a series of performances last Christmas.
Other charities to have benefited from their work include the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley and Camp Mohawk, near Wargrave.
The carol singers’ organiser Judy Whittaker and members Ginny Bachelor-Smith and Keith Atkinson attended the ceremony, as did Sue and Steve Fisher, of the Stoke Row Independent Chapel choir.
Town councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin, a member of the Henley Carol Singers, opened the evening with a speech.
She said: “Music and the arts are vibrant in Henley thanks in no small part to people like Wendy.
“[Our] rehearsals are always amusing and noisy but usually with a lot of chat. Without her strong arm, because it is like herding cats, we would not get very far.
“Who has not been surprised when they see, for the first time, Wendy hitting her head with the tuning fork? At first I thought it was because we were so bad and there was no wall nearby.
“You soon get used to this and Wendy is great at giving us the note. She has a great ability to get our audience involved and to really enjoy singing along. She is a talented musician, a fantastic accompanist and very strict conductor.
“Her teaching is inspiring to many aspiring musicians. She is firm but fair and always with a bit of a twinkle in her eye. With people like Wendy and her dedication and enthusiasm, we can be assured of a bright musical future.
“Wendy, I know you do not seek the limelight, but you have contributed selflessly to many causes and with the giving of the town medal we are able to say thank-you.”
Mrs Hawkins learned she was to receive the medal a month ago and said: “The Mayor phoned me up and asked if he could come round to see me, so I thought, ‘my goodness, what have I done?’
“I was absolutely amazed but delighted when I heard the news. I’m very pleased for everybody who has come and sung for me.
“It is one thing being a conductor or organiser but you need people behind you who are willing to take part.”
She said she could not have imagined the society would still be thriving more than 40 years after she founded it.
She said: “You can only ever hope these things will be a success. You sow the seeds and hope they will take on a momentum of their own; that they will continue to attract young people with new ideas to run it and keep it going.
“It’s no good remaining static, although we have members who’ve been here since the start and that is wonderful. A place like Henley is ideal for us because it has so many people who appreciate the value of music and singing, which I’m passionate about.”
Mrs Hawkins said one of her favourite memories was singing in the society’s 40th anniversary performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Reading Concert Hall last summer. She also enjoyed its recital of Haydn’s Creation at the same venue in 2012.
She has no plans to step down. “I will leave when I feel I’m too old to be a help any longer,” said Mrs Hawkins. “Things have got to move on for continuity’s sake and you can’t hang in there until people are telling you to go.
“You have to be willing to pass the baton to younger members of the community.
“I think there will always be someone to take over the things I do because it’s such a pleasure to do them in Henley. It is a wonderful town to live in and full of people who are willing to volunteer.”
Cllr Gawrysiak said: “It has been a fantastic occasion and we are very pleased with our choice of recipient. She truly deserves it after more than 40 years’ service.”
• The town medal is awarded to residents who have achieved notable accomplishments or given at least 10 years’ service to the community.
THE Mayor also presented lapel badges to Erin Bradley and Lauren Hunt to mark the end of their year as his cadets. The 15-year-olds, who both live in Trust Corner and attend Gillotts School, have been members of the Henley Army Cadets for four years. They have represented the Mayor at various civic events, including the Remembrance Day service in Market Place. The role of mayor’s cadet is usually given to one candidate but Cllr Gawrysiak said he and his colleagues had been unable to choose between the two. He said: “They were both of a high quality and calibre and they have been extremely helpful in the role.” Lauren said: “It gives you a real sense of pride to be representing the cadet forces and the town.”