Posted By Bryna O’Brien | June 19, 2024

QEII is a charity that relies on donations to ensure our essential day-to-day activities can be managed with confidence. Philanthropists and covenantors John and Elisa Mendzela have supported QEII for years as donors and have recently let us know that they have included a humbling gift to QEII in their will. Our fundraising manager Bryna O’Brien asked John and Elisa about the reason they donate and their vision for conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Your vibrant blue bench, covered in kohekohe flowers, has been featured on the envelope for Open Space magazine. Can you tell us a bit about your property and your QEII covenant?

John: Our property is sufficiently steep that nobody’s done anything to it – as far as anyone can tell, it’s never been cleared – and therefore its ecological values remain intact. The house is on a small flat area at the front, so it’s almost two different worlds. When we were a little younger and fitter we actually went straight up to the top once or twice where the covenant meets the regional park.

Elisa: The most beautiful thing about the property is the kohekohe trees and there are so many. In the winter, they drop their lovely little flowers and that’s what coated the bench in the photos. The flowers actually come off the tree trunk, they don’t come off a branch. It’s unusual and we constantly have this carpet of little flowers, creamy white, small and beautiful.

Where did your interest in conservation and the environment come from?

John: We met at university in the 1970s in the brick, concrete and stone environment of England where there was very little casual nature – nature that wasn’t in a park. This was when the environmental movement really got started, when we saw that the human species was headed on an unsustainable course of action.

Elisa: I became the chairperson for a conservation group. I didn’t know a great deal of science, but I knew that we should be recycling, clearing rubbish from rivers, turning bomb sites into allotments; it was sometimes a primitive approach, but the intentions were good. The intensity of that interest has gone up and down over the years as we’ve done other things, but it’s always remained.


You are generous philanthropists to a range of causes. What does philanthropy mean to you?

John: You can’t take it with you! Most people pass it on to their families, but we deliberately haven’t had any children for environmental reasons. We’ve worked and saved and accumulated far more than the minimum we need. So then comes the problem of giving it away.

Conservation was the obvious first choice, and we also support other causes like women’s reproductive choices, particularly in developing countries, and arts organisations of various types.

When you’re giving somebody money, you want to know that they’re going to not only use it for the right cause, but they’re going to use it efficiently.

Why did you choose to leave a gift to QEII in your will?

Elisa: QEII fitted the bill very well for us. It’s an organisation that does an awful lot with very limited resources and the people on the ground are very talented, very able. The money gets through to the frontline. QEII is an organisation that is high on achievement and low on politics, and we think you get a better response when you encourage people to do voluntary conservation and to protect their beautiful environments for the nation.

The regional rep who helped us establish our covenant was Trevor Thompson and he has been instrumental because he’s such a can-do person with such amazing knowledge and ability. We have been very impressed with him and really that’s why we’re here. It’s people like him that will move conservation forward in New Zealand.


What do you hope for the future? What do you hope QEII will achieve with your gift?

John: It’s well established now that if you want to preserve environmental values, you have to get people committed. You can’t do it by the stroke of a pen. People are committed to things that they feel are theirs, even if they are going to pass it on to someone else – it’s theirs for a time, and they have a connection with it. Voluntary conservation on private properties works because people are emotionally connected to it.

Elisa: We hope that our funds help QEII go even further to find that reservoir of goodwill beyond political beliefs and get people working together effectively to care for the planet.

John and Elisa are passionate about voluntary conservation and have compiled a video with the variety of submissions that the community has put forward in support of this cause. You can view the video on John’s YouTube channel here.

If you would like to talk about leaving a gift to QEII in your will, please contact Bryna on 027 295 5369 or, or read more about Partners in Protection Ōhākī.

This interview was originally published in the May 2024 issue of Open Space magazine.