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Generosity born of hard times
The Wellingtonian, Wellington  by Collette Devlin
13 Jul 2017
General News - page 1 - 614 words - ID 809194099 - Photo: Yes - Type: News Item - Size: 629.00cm2

The misery of postwar Germany lies behind Mark Dunajtschik's philanthropy, writes

Mark Dunajtschik arrived in Wellington almost 60 years ago, and is forever grateful for the reception he received.

"I like Wellington, it has been good to me, and that is the main reason I want to put money into it," he said after Monday's gift of $50 million for a new children's hospital.

"I made my money here, and I would like it to stay here."

The German-born 82-year-old property investor has been a substantial benefactor to good causes in the city, but much of his philanthropy has gone unnoticed.

He started the helicopter rescue service, Life Flight Trust, in 1975, and fully funded it for 10 years before a commercial sponsor came on board.

He takes pride in being the first private person to contribute to the creation of the Michael Fowler Centre. He also lends his financial support to Wellington Free Ambulance, disability service provider Hohepa, the Graeme Dingle Foundation, Heart Trust and Black Gold.

Health is the focus of much of his charitable work, stemming from his experiences as a young man in Germany after World War II.

"After I served my apprenticeship [as a tool-maker] I was living in a home with intellectually disabled people and I saw the misery they went through. That is where the thought was formed that I wanted to help.

"My philosophy is people that are born with a healthy body and mind can look after themselves, and those unfortunate to be born with or suffering ill health need our help."

Wellington Hospitals Foundation chairman Bill Day said he approached Dunajtschik for a donation to a new children's hospital, but the property developer said he quickly decided, after consulting life and business partner Dorothy Spotswood, to fund it and build it himself.

"I hope I can finish it. I want to build it, not just hand over a cheque."

Dunajtschik and Spotswood, who have been together for almost 50 years, met at the Overland travel club in Wellington, which he formed after travelling from South America to New Zealand and back to Europe on a motorbike in 1955.

The couple have no children, and see Wellington as their legacy. It was Dunajtschik's love included Canada, Venezuela and Australia.

"I had two main criteria: a country that offered plenty of outdoor activities, and a place where I could have a commercial future. New Zealand offered of the outdoors and travel that brought him to New Zealand. He was looking for somewhere to settle, and had a shortlist that also abundant hunting, tramping, skiing and tennis, and I could clearly see a future as a toolmaker."

He arrived in Wellington in February 1958, aged 23, and found work the same day, only a few yards from where he got off the ship at Evans Bay.

"I liked that Wellington was a lovely sleepy town. The compactness appealed to me. It's still a very liveable city, I'm a very happy Wellingtonian."

When he retired from his engineering business nearly 30 years later, he took up property investment as a "hobby" after seeing how "useless" builders could make a living.

"I used to say, if I got into that game, I will make a mint out of of it, which I did."

He has built and owns several large commercial properties throughout Wellington, including the T&G - otherwise known as the Harcourts building - in Lambton Quay, which is being converted into a Hilton hotel.

At 82, he has no plans to slow down. "I might retire three days before my funeral."

"I made my money here, and I would like it to stay here."

Mark Dunajtschik

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