Donors come full circle with bequest to support scholarships and football

Jan and Michael Tennant When newlyweds Janet and Michael Tennant arrived in New Zealand from Manchester in the UK in 1972, they had no idea of the adventure that would soon unfold. Now, 50 years since they first arrived, the couple have established a bequest to support scholarships and football, in what they say is a mark of affection for the University of Waikato and the happy memories they have of their time here.

The Tennants (pictured here hiking in the Bernese Mountains in Switzerland, and below with their Austin Cambridge outside their home near the University) arrived in New Zealand to pursue a career in teaching, and had heard through a family friend that they would be able to combine professional studies with a degree course at the University of Waikato.

“It was an opportunity not to be missed. We took the plunge, booked our tickets and arrived for our interviews – which thankfully went well! We then set up home in University-managed accommodation on Tralee Place.”

Jan and Mike Tennant in 1970sThey say it is hard to overstate just how much they enjoyed and valued their studies at Waikato. “Both the teacher education course and the undergraduate studies we pursued were of the highest standard. We were taught by a number of truly inspirational teachers and lecturers, and we feel strongly that the professional and academic grounding we were lucky enough to acquire laid the foundations for whatever success we may have been able to achieve since.”

The Tennants graduated in 1975, with Jan also completing a Bachelor of Social Science in 1976 while Mike worked at Paul’s University Bookshop on Victoria Street. Mike also played four seasons for Teacher’s Varsity FC – two as captain - which he says were the happiest of his footballing life.

Reluctantly the Tennants decided to return to the UK. “In those days New Zealand felt a long way from England and the difficulties in maintaining meaningful family ties at that distance were considerable.

“It took some time to settle back into ‘normal’ life in England, which was in part a reflection of how much we had grown and changed during our time in New Zealand, and also because we realised what a friendly, progressive and open society we had left behind.”

After a few false starts the Tennants were back on track and spend the next four decades carving out their lives and careers, building on the “tremendous start” they’d had at Waikato. Jan went into school teaching, then into higher education with roles at Derby, Aston and Loughborough universities, and later leadership roles in academic practice and educational development. She also completed a Master of Education at the University of Birmingham and a Master of Arts at the Open University.

Mike finished his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Manchester and veered away from teaching, initially into youth residential social work, later completing a Master of Social Science in social work at Birmingham University. He then went to work with the West Midlands Probation Service, spending most of his career there until he retired as Assistant Chief Officer, via a stint in the UK Home Office (now Ministry of Justice) where he worked on probation policy issues.

Now retired in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, the Tennants have only happy memories of their time in New Zealand. “That period was the bedrock of everything we have done since, and it feels only right and proper to try and acknowledge that debt in some way through a bequest.

“To know that new generations of students might be able to enjoy the benefits and privileges that we had all those years ago is a reward in itself. And if any of them play football, so much the better!"