Lyal and his family moved to Palmerston North in 1988 to take up the city’s Tupperware distribution franchise.
His first volunteering here was as a Cub leader. In 1994, he joined the Rotary Club of Takaro and it is through this club he has served the city in so many ways, including the Girls Sheds Tours and master of ceremonies for the senior citizens afternoon.
Lyal has served on several Rotary youth committees and five times hosted international exchange students.
He has twice been club president and was assistant governor for the area stretching from New Plymouth to Wellington.
“I can’t imagine a life not involved with people, if you put me on a desert island without people I’d go crazy,” Lyal says.
Heart for youth
Seven years ago Lyal became Big Brothers Big Sisters of Manawatu’s first mentor. He currently mentors 13-year-old Charles who was lacking a male influence in his life. Charles accompanies Lyal on some of his community work.
“I see him growing up to be a very fine gentleman; that might have happened without my influence, it might not.”
Lyal was also a volunteer for youth mentoring programme Project K, founded by the Graeme Dingle Foundation.
For 12 years, Lyal has donned a Santa suit his seamstress sister made him to bring smiles to the city’s young and not-so-young residents. The father of two began at the Farmers Santa cave and has since appeared at retirement homes, Te Manawa, the Christmas parade and Christmas in The Square.
“I find that a very satisfying role because children are unassuming and haven’t been tainted by the world, they still like the surprise and the magic of Santa.”
He also enjoys interacting with older people with Santa’s visit bringing back happy memories for them. “I like working with older people too, I think they deserve the respect of having lived in this world for a long time.
I'd like to be Santa all year round but unfortunately it’s not an all-year-round activity. It just gives me a chance to spread cheer to people who might not otherwise have it.Lyal Brenton
For four years Lyal was a key part of the Palmerston North Food Bank Food Drive that ensured food banks were stocked during winter. As well as helping with logistics, promotion and manual labour, Lyal drew on his contacts to seek assistance.
When the Rotary Club of Takaro started a reading in schools programme at Takaro School 18 years ago, Lyal put his hand up to volunteer. Since retiring he has picked up this role again.
Lyal is deputy chairperson of the Palmerston North Community Services Council, is on the steering committee for Community Manawatu and has just joined the committee of the Manawatu Just Released Accommodation Trust.
Difficulty saying no
“I’m pretty much working full time without pay which is good, it keeps me out of trouble,” he says. “I think people know I have trouble with the ‘no’ word but my wife every now and then has to have a training session with me on how to say ‘no’.”
When asked how he finds time for all his voluntary work, Lyal replied: “I just make it happen. I find that if what I’m doing creates a result then I can fit it in.”
He is grateful for the support of his wife, Christina.
As the manager of Methodist Goodwill, Lyal’s heart for people continued to shine. After natural disasters, he organised clothes to be sent to Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu seeing this as extending the arm of goodwill to the family and friends of Palmerston North residents. He opened Goodwill’s door to young people needing to complete court-ordered community service and to students exploring career options through the Gateway programme.
Lyal credits his community mindedness to his mother, Joan, who was heavily involved in their Geraldine community. In fact Joan was a Meals on Wheels volunteer until she was 88 as she wanted to help “older people”.
Lyal’s volunteering began in Auckland when as a 19-year-old banker he joined Rotaract. When he moved across the Tasman, he joined Apex Australia – a community service organisation, then on returning to Auckland, Jaycees.
Keen to raise money for those affected by the February 2011 Canterbury earthquake, Lyal organised a charity run from Auckland to Christchurch. Perry Newburn did the running and Lyal drove the support vehicle. They raised $25,000.
“When I see things like that happening I always try to come up with what I can do to help.”
Lyal says he is humbled by the Civic Honour Award as there are so many people working for organisations that give up their time, knowledge and skills to help people.
“I don’t ever see myself not doing something for the community in my life, I will die volunteering.”
This is the first story in a series profiling the three Palmerston North people honoured with Civic Awards this year.