Leen Locum RIP

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Personal Profile – Leen Lokum

by Clive Dalton, Waikato Guild of Woodworkers

Leen was born in the industrial city of Gouda in Holland (famous for its cheese) in February 1923.  February in Holland is not a tropical place but Leen was warmly welcomed as the fifth of ten children. The uninvited arrival of the Germans in 1940 is still a vivid memory and he can even remember the very spot on the pavement where he stood watching their army roll into the city.  He has been back and shown his two sons the very spot where he stood – much to their disbelief that he could remember it.

Leen’s father made and repaired boots and shoes and was able to get enough leather during the war to keep his job going.  But then he moved to the post office delivering telegrams – where the ringing bell of the telegram man during the war was usually bad news.


Leen went to school until about November 1944 when the winter started and with no fuel for heating the schools were closed.  He left Gouda in January 1945 aged 11 as a very hungry and rapidly growing boy.  Food was very short in Gouda so to build up his health he was sent to a family in the North of Holland near the coast where conditions were better.

Leen left school aged 14 in 1947 and got a job in a market garden.  He stayed there eight years as a worker as there were no apprenticeships possible there.  He then had to do his eighteen months national service and chose the air force – on the lowest possible pay of 1 Guilder a day, so he had not much in his bank to contemplate starting his own market garden in Holland.  Leen was not one of the lucky ones whose salary carried on during national service as some employers did.


About this time the Dutch government was offering assistance to young people willing to develop market gardens in the North of Holland but Leen’s resources were nothing near adequate and he could only dream.

So after national service Leen worked on a farm thinking about his future abroad where farm workers were wanted.  He looked at Canada and considered it too cold.   Australia was taking anybody so he tried for New Zealand- finding it quite hard to get entry.

He left Amsterdam on the SS Southern Cross and sailed via Curacao to fill the tanks, Panama and Tahiti arriving in Wellington in early November amazed at the green hills – there are none in Holland – only mole hills!

Leen’s assisted passage committed him to two years working on farms in New Zealand.  You could move around different farms but if you left the industry then you would have to pay back what the government had spent on you.  People who came out as labourers however had much more freedom to move around jobs.

So as a new immigrant Leen headed from the port of Wellington to the rail car and a dairy farm in Taranaki.  The English language was a challenge Leen says.  He had learned some English at school and went to lessons before leaving but some of the “Kiwi English” pronunciation was another language he said.  There was a bloke on the farm building a hay shed and every other word was “blardy” so Leen checked the dictionary when he got into his room one night but could not see how “bloody – covered in blood” fitted into this bloke’s conversation or a hayshed!


Leen stayed on this farm for 9 months and got another job at Eltham on Dr Gordon’s farm working with another Dutchman.  This was better as his wife had a job in Eltham hospital. He stayed here happily for the rest of his two years in farming.

Then in 1958 Leen went to Wellington and got a job with the City Council as a truck driver for three months and was then out of work.  But he had established a good relationship with the overseer who went looking for him to mow lawns around the city. 

He could not see a great future in this till he retired so he then changed over to the gardening side, dropping pay, but enjoying his time in the nursery.  He then moved to be head gardener at the Wellington Zoo where he established many friends both inside and outside the cages!

During this time Leen started studying horticulture via correspondence.  This was a tough commitment – working during the day and studying at night.  But he says the support he got from his colleagues in the council for his efforts was tremendous.

It was a 6 year part-time course – divided into Junior, Intermediate and Diploma stages, each stage of 2 years.  Leen achieved his Diploma in 8 years including having to do a thesis.  Before he completed the Diploma in Horticulture, Leen took up the appointment of head gardener art Trentham racecourse as he needed the experience of two years on his own to learn how to make business decisions on his own. Again he values the support from everyone in the horticulture business in the Wellington City Council as he knew them all.

His Diploma duly arrived in the mail – and with it a massive relief after a very stressful time of studying and having the big responsibility of his job.  He stayed at Trentham for 6-9 months and then came to Hamilton in 1971 as overseer for the City Council’s Hamilton East gardens and parks.  This was a big job with 50 staff at times – and they did the whole job including the trees.  Leen was there for nearly 10 years during which time his wife died of cancer in 1978.


Leen started life again with Anne and three young children and his hobby nursery at home.  He then took a job for the Waikato Hospital Board where he stayed for ten years.  This was a big job as he had an advisory role with all the smaller district hospitals in the Waikato into the bargain.  But then the hospitals were restructured and along with this Leen’s job.  His new job structure was not very attractive.

So Leen took redundancy and went home to his nursery – and his woodturning.  During his horticulture days Leen always had an eye for an interesting bit of wood so any pruning jobs on big trees were grabbed for his retirement.  So in 1994 when he bought a Teknatool 1300 lathe, he had a basement full of dry wood. And despite all the wood he had turned – he still had a basement full of dry wood!

So Leen took off learning from books and trial and error, and turned a very wide range of objects and loved anything with a challenge.  He also loved sharing his knowledge – his successes, his failures and his experiments.

Leen said he was a winter turner when things in the nursery are cold and wet.  He was a strong supporter of the Waikato Guild and the Te Awamutu club that he visitsed regularly, enjoying their small groups meeting in member’s workshops.  He felt this is something we should do more of. He will be greatly missed by family, friends and Guild members.


Dr Clive Dalton studied agriculture in the UK before teaching animal production at Leeds University. Before retirement he taught agriculture at Wintec. He is a founding member of the Guild and edited a blog recording the interests and activities of members over several years.