Otago Daily Times

Hard work earned ad­mi­ra­tion of all

- REG­GIE JOE Mar­ket gar­dener ex­traor­di­naire Otago · Reggie Miller · Dunedin · Guangzhou · China · Guangdong Province · New Zealand · Martinborough · Wellington, New Zealand · Oamaru · Saint Paul · Auckland · Thoroughly Modern Millie · Orewa · Joe King · Balclutha · Bnz.co.nz · Blenheim

WHEN it came to work ethic, it would be hard to look past le­gendary North Otago mar­ket gar­dener Reg­gie Joe.

For more than 45 years, Joe’s Vegie Stall on State High­way 1 at Alma has been a land­mark. From hum­ble beginnings as a small road­side stall with an hon­esty tin, the busi­ness ex­panded to a busy op­er­a­tion, at­tract­ing a loyal fol­low­ing of cus­tomers.

His wife Suzie ac­knowl­edged it was his gar­den and cus­tomers that Mr Joe put first, fol­lowed by his fam­ily for whom he did it all.

His am­bi­tion in life was sim­ple; to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for his four chil­dren. Hav­ing known hard­ship first­hand, he was de­ter­mined they would re­ceive a good ed­u­ca­tion.

Mr Joe died peace­fully, sur­rounded by his fam­ily, in Dunedin Hos­pi­tal on June 8, aged 82.

He was to­tally com­mit­ted to the busi­ness and, even dur­ing re­cent ill health, loved serv­ing his reg­u­lar cus­tomers who of­ten left with ex­tra free pro­duce — and smiles on their faces.

‘‘Over the years, we’ve em­ployed hun­dreds of staff. Not one, I could say, would be able to han­dle what we han­dled. Even I don’t know how we did it a lot of times but I think it was be­cause we wanted to reach the same goal,’’ Suzie Joe said.

The el­dest son of Joe King Nam and Joe Dong Kit, and from a fam­ily of eight, Mr Joe was 4 when he, his two older sis­ters Fay and Joy and their mother moved from Can­ton, China to New Zealand as war refugees in 1939. His grand­fa­ther had ar­rived in 1866 and his father in 1919.

‘‘The Chi­nese were so poor — that’s why they ended up trav­el­ling to all parts of the world. They were treated badly but they put up with it be­cause it was so much bet­ter than it was at home,’’ he told the Otago Daily Times in 2012.

Some New Zealan­ders could not un­der­stand what real poverty was, he said, il­lus­trat­ing his point with the story of a sis­ter who died in China.

‘‘We just didn’t have the money for medicine; we just had to let her go. If only some peo­ple in New Zealand to­day had a lit­tle bit of hard­ship they might look at life a lit­tle dif­fer­ently . . . peo­ple have no idea how poor peo­ple can be.’’

Mr Joe spent his early years in Mart­in­bor­ough, where his par­ents worked in mar­ket gar­dens and in a fruit shop.

He left at 19 and did a va­ri­ety of jobs in­clud­ing shear­ing, work­ing as a lines­man, at a milk treat­ment sta­tion, mo­tor ve­hi­cle busi­ness and the Welling­ton wharf.

Af­ter a cou­ple of years, he moved to Bal­clutha, to work for his two sis­ters in their mar­ket gar­den in sum­mer and fruit shop in win­ter.

Mr Joe moved to North Otago in 1958 and he and his younger brother Martin bought a lease for a fruit shop in Oa­maru.

With about 12 other fruit shops in town, it was very com­pet­i­tive. They had to lease land and grow their own veg­eta­bles to com­pete and were sell­ing pro­duce at a loss.

When the Bank of New Zealand took over the premises in 1967, the broth­ers re­turned to gar­den­ing full­time.

By this stage, Mr Joe had mar­ried Suzie — the cou­ple met at a dance in Welling­ton — and were mar­ried at St Paul’s Church in Oa­maru in 1965.

The broth­ers bought a farm at Bound­ary Creek and built a large glasshouse that grew 10,000 tomato plants, while grow­ing crops on the ad­ja­cent land. Reg­gie and Martin were the first to grow toma­toes hy­dro­pon­i­cally in North Otago.

Af­ter two sea­sons, they went their sep­a­rate ways, with Martin and his fam­ily stay­ing on the prop­erty.

Reg­gie and Suzie bought a 4ha prop­erty at Alma, where they built glasshouse­s and opened a small road­side stall in 1972. They also farmed an­other block with Mr Joe’s sis­ter Fay.

In win­ter, Mr Joe picked Brus­sels sprouts four to five days a week, from 9am un­til

6pm, in all weather.

While rais­ing a fam­ily in a small, two­bed­room house, Mrs Joe would stay home clean­ing Brus­sels sprouts ready to be dis­patched to the mar­ket in Welling­ton on Mon­day morn­ing. The cou­ple were some­times trim­ming sprouts un­til 2am or 3am.

In 1984, Martin sold the Bound­ary Creek prop­erty and, a year later, Reg­gie and Suzie’s el­der son Steven bought it and the fam­ily op­er­ated both prop­er­ties.

By then, they were grow­ing 22,000 tomato plants — pro­duc­ing up to six tonnes of toma­toes a week — as well as run­ning the stall and grow­ing crops to stock it. They of­ten worked 20­hour days to man­age the work­load.

In 1997, they bought the old John M. Fraser auc­tion rooms and turned them into a re­tail out­let. Fam­ily mem­bers manned it for 10 years be­fore clos­ing it as the work­load got too much.

They also cul­ti­vated an en­thu­si­as­tic fol­low­ing at the Otago Farm­ers Mar­ket in Dunedin for about 10 months in 2004.

Mr Joe sowed crops con­tin­u­ously, so there was al­ways plenty of va­ri­ety. Fresh peas were in de­mand ev­ery Christ­mas and they of­ten picked in the dark to keep up.

‘‘It was al­ways a prob­lem to em­ploy kids to pick them as they would al­ways end up pick­ing flat ones and, one Christ­mas Eve, we spent an en­tire night sort­ing through them to throw out the flat ones,’’ Mrs Joe said.

Mr Joe loved driv­ing and would travel to Blen­heim to col­lect or­chard­fresh ap­ples, do­ing the re­turn trip in one day and catch­ing a few hours’ sleep in the cab of the truck. He would some­times do the same to get cher­ries for Christ­mas sales.

Re­flect­ing on his suc­cess in busi­ness, Mr Joe at­trib­uted it to work ethic. ‘‘We started off from scratch; right from noth­ing. Pure hard work has got us into this po­si­tion, look­ing af­ter our cus­tomers and grow­ing our own pro­duce.’’

Keep­ing up with mod­ern equip­ment also helped. Fork­lifts had been es­pe­cially use­ful — Mr Joe once car­ried big sacks of pro­duce on his back — and rel­a­tively few out­go­ings meant the busi­ness re­mained vi­able.

Mrs Joe said her hus­band was al­ways think­ing about work. ‘‘Reg­gie al­ways said to me, ‘if you can’t run a good busi­ness, don’t bother try­ing’.’’

Un­til a few years ago, even Christ­mas Day in­volved work and he and Mrs Joe only ever took two hol­i­days to­gether.

Bob Suther­land first met Mr Joe in 1959 and the pair be­came good friends af­ter Mr Joe asked if he would be in­ter­ested in work­ing for him.

Mr Suther­land spent much of his youth with Martin and Reg­gie. He re­mem­bers plant­ing pota­toes by torch­light at 1am af­ter they had been to the movies — and his own three chil­dren also worked for Mr Joe.

He de­scribed Mr Joe as a very hum­ble man who was also very gen­er­ous and knowl­edge­able. He was a very as­tute busi­ness­man and a great per­son to seek ad­vice from.

Friend and fel­low mar­ket gar­dener Pe­ter Arm­strong de­scribed Mr Joe as one of the most gen­er­ous men he had ever met.

‘‘He al­ways tried to help the young grow­ers com­ing through and would al­ways back the un­der­dog, of which I was both. No mat­ter how busy he was, he al­ways had time for peo­ple.

‘‘I guess, over the last 25 years, Reg has been a bit like a father fig­ure to me — al­ways there, through thick and thin, a great guy in the good times and an even bet­ter one in the bad.

‘‘He al­ways seemed such a level­headed guy, with a wealth of knowl­edge and he was al­ways pre­pared to share that knowl­edge when ap­proached for help.

‘‘Reg was a ‘peo­ple per­son’ and his friendly, wel­com­ing smile will be missed by many — re­gard­less of whether he had his teeth in or not.’’

Mr Joe cher­ished his chil­dren and par­tic­u­larly en­joyed in lat­ter times, af­ter Steven joined the busi­ness, spend­ing time with younger daugh­ter Melinda, a tal­ented per­form­ing artist.

He over­came his fear of fly­ing to at­tend the na­tional tap danc­ing awards in Welling­ton in 1998 to proudly watch her per­form.

In 2012, he sur­prised her by fly­ing to Auck­land to watch her fi­nal per­for­mance as the lead in Thor­oughly Mod­ern Mil­lie at the Cen­tre Stage Theatre in Orewa.

In April, Melinda played Cyn­thia in the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, staged by Show­biz Christchur­ch.

Sadly, Mr Joe and Steven did not get to see it, as they stayed at home to work, al­low­ing Suzie to at­tend with el­der daugh­ter Karen and grand­son Tar­ras.

Mr Joe’s in­ter­ests were varied and he loved ‘‘any­thing and ev­ery­thing’’ — from na­ture and pol­i­tics to sci­ence and sport.

A daily rit­ual was read­ing the Otago Daily Times ‘‘front to back’’. He en­joyed cre­at­ing meals for his fam­ily and he also loved mu­sic.

He en­joyed spend­ing time with his grand­chil­dren, two of whom, Ash­leigh and Tar­ras, worked week­ends and school hol­i­days in the shop, of­ten stay­ing for an evening meal pre­pared by their grand­fa­ther.

Zane, a keen sportsman, en­joyed watch­ing sport on tele­vi­sion with his grand­fa­ther, while Mr Joe of­ten viewed youngest grand­daugh­ter

Misaki’s ice­skat­ing per­for­mances on video, as he could not travel to watch her in per­son.

Steven Joe, who worked along­side his father, de­scribed Mr Joe as hav­ing great knowl­edge and pas­sion. He had been a men­tor, teacher and best friend.

Mrs Joe said her hus­band had a great sense of hu­mour and never got ruf­fled about any­thing. He had a ‘‘mag­i­cal’’ abil­ity to make peo­ple feel good and he would al­ways do his best to help others.

That gen­eros­ity was ac­knowl­edged at his fu­neral ser­vice when those at­tend­ing were in­vited to help them­selves to fresh pro­duce from his gar­den, at the front of the church, in re­turn for a do­na­tion to St John.

Bruce Al­bis­ton, a cus­tomer for more than 30 years, said his ad­mi­ra­tion for the fam­ily’s longterm in­vest­ment in the com­mu­nity had grown with the years.

‘‘They have pro­vided a model of fam­ily en­ter­prise, a work ethic that max­imised the won­der­ful re­sources of the To­tara soils, and a cus­tomer ser­vice that en­sured we lo­cals ben­e­fited most from the pro­duce that they har­vested.’’

Mr Joe had been part of the back­bone of North Otago and his busi­ness was ‘‘a State High­way 1 icon’’ that had el­e­vated the dis­trict’s recog­ni­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally for its hor­ti­cul­ture and pro­duce.

Mr Joe is sur­vived by his wife Suzie, chil­dren Steven, Graeme, Karen and Melinda, and grand­chil­dren Ash­leigh, Tar­ras, Zane and Misaki. — Sally Rae

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 ?? PHO­TOS : SUP­PLIED ?? Reg­gie Joe har­vests cau­li­flower on his farm in 2012. Right: Mr Joe har­vest­ing toma­toes in his glasshouse in 1981. Be­low: Mr Joe out­side his well­known vege stall in Alma, on State High­way 1.
PHO­TOS : SUP­PLIED Reg­gie Joe har­vests cau­li­flower on his farm in 2012. Right: Mr Joe har­vest­ing toma­toes in his glasshouse in 1981. Be­low: Mr Joe out­side his well­known vege stall in Alma, on State High­way 1.
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